If you're into horses, forget the economy. Business doesn't look all that bad around here – especially if you're talking about southern Mecklenburg, York and Union counties.
Now, we're not talking about operations with a pony and a couple bales of hay. We're talking jumpers, dressage, competition, breeding, pedigrees, stud service and boarding stables.
The new Palisades Equestrian Center opened last week in southern Mecklenburg. Joe Guthrie of the Clemson-York (S.C.) Extension Agency says four new horse facilities are going up in York County. And an N.C. Rural Center study ranks Union the No. 2 county in the state for the horse industry.
“It's huge,” says Jerry Simpson, director of the Union County Cooperative Extension. “I believe if you followed a 75-mile radius around Charlotte, through part of Cabarrus, Union, south Mecklenburg and York, you would find more horses than anywhere else.”
The relatively new Cheval subdivision in Mint Hill and Union's Bonterra neighborhood are designed with pastures, trails and barns to cater to horse enthusiasts.
Caitlin Fletcher runs the new Palisades Equestrian Center.
It will house 20 horses. Three had arrived last week, and seven more were on the way. Palisades offers boarding, riding lessons and horse training. “There is money in this industry,” Fletcher says. “I'm 22 and I'm running this facility. But I work hard. I'm up at 4:30 a.m. I feed, groom and ride all my horses.”
Fletcher said horses at her barn can range in price from $1,000 to $10,000. Owners come from around the Charlotte region, but also from out of state. Fletcher expects to house one horse from Washington state and two from St. Paul, Minn.
1The four new facilities coming to York are a good indicator of good business, Guthrie says. Charlotte is the key, he says, because it draws people who can afford to be horse enthusiasts.
“There are more people near Charlotte with the money,” Guthrie said recently. “Chester (S.C.) has fewer (horses and facilities), Cherokee County (S.C.) has fewer. The farther you get away from Charlotte, I think that has an impact.”
Here's more about what's happening with the area's horse industry:
In York County, Mary Quarles recently expanded her barn at Ketchen Place Farm, where she breeds, sells and sometimes boards horses. Horses at her facility are priced in the $5,000 to $10,000 range and higher. Quarles, who breeds thoroughbreds and German Warmbloods, has a place in the new barn that she can enclose to stay on cold nights when a mare is about to give birth. Stud fees at Ketchen Place are $1,000-$2,000, plus boarding, vet service and any related fees.
Union County Cooperative Extension hands out a 60-page directory listing horse-related services in Union and some nearby counties. The extension service's Simpson says he sees people of all ages around this region who enjoy horses. Union County has the state's top 4-H equine program, with riders winning competitions on state and national levels.
Services for horses and their owners are getting pricier. Pasture space can cost $175-$200 a month, stall boarding about $300 a month, Union County's Simpson says. But more amenities can drive the cost close to $1,000 monthly. In addition to basic feed and shelter, some boarding facilities offer weekly veterinary service, farrier service, exercise, microchips, massage and grooming.
Cheval in Mint Hill opened last year with 160 home sites, priced from $850,000 to $5 million, and an upscale equestrian center.
“This resident moves forward good economy, bad economy,” says Diane Austin, president of Builder Developer Advisors Inc., which sells and markets homes in the neighborhood. “The first thing they think about when they move is the comfort and care of their horses.”
Caitlin Fletcher at Palisades understands their sentiments.
She points to Emma Sue, a 13-year-old, dark brown standard bred. “She's the love of my life,” Fletcher says.