Northern Ireland

Horse industry 'worth £212m' to Northern Ireland economy

A girl grooming a horse
Image caption Most of the 34,000 horses in Northern Ireland are for private use

The horse industry in Northern Ireland is worth up to £212m a year to the wider economy, according to a report commissioned by the government.

The report covers everything from breeding to horse therapy to equestrian centres offering riding lessons and stabling.

There are more than 34,000 horses in Northern Ireland, the bulk of them owned by people for recreational use.

The cost of owning a pony is about £5,000 a year.

Image caption The report was commissioned by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs

The report was commissioned by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to establish the value of the equine industry in Northern Ireland.

The information will be used to consider ideas for developing the sector.

Most of the money is spent on the cost of keeping horses, including stabling, training, feed and transport.

The industry supports the equivalent of about 3,000 full time jobs and the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) at Enniskillen offers courses for those seeking a career with horses.

Image caption The industry hopes for greater government support as part of a new strategy

Geoff Cannon, the chair of Northern Ireland's Equine Council, which represents about 30 organisations, said a cross-departmental strategy was needed because of the way the industry was set up.

The industry includes people involved in sport, business, health and even justice, given the potential use of horses in prisons for therapeutic purposes.

"To engage with central government we needed to show them there was a value to this industry and hence the report," Mr Cannon said.

Image caption Geoff Cannon is chair of the NI Equine Council

He said he would like to see a similar level of government support as that offered in the Republic of Ireland, where the horse industry is a big player.

The thoroughbred industry in Northern Ireland is very small by comparison but Mr Cannon said there was a "huge sport and leisure industry" with scope for investment and improvement.

Adrienne Stuart, who runs an equestrian centre outside Bangor, County Down, said a review of the rateable value of her indoor arena would be a big help.

She is billed on the basis that it is occupied all year round, when in fact it could be empty for half that time as work moves outdoors.

Image caption Adrienne Stuart runs an equestrian centre near Bangor

In order to make the business pay, she needs to have several incomes, including the riding school, the stabling service and training for competitions.

But with most of her family involved it's the love of horses that keeps her at it.

"The horse I had for a long time there, he was my therapist - he and I just had wee sessions in the stable every now and again," she said.

"It was great getting your head showered, putting the tack on him, going away out on my own and getting some time out."

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