Is cash king in the horse world? International survey aims to find out

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Researchers Karin Pekarchik, left, and Kimberly Tumlin are seeking information on those who participate in horse sports to learn more about the socioeconomic factors about the industry. 
Researchers Karin Pekarchik, left, and Kimberly Tumlin are seeking information on those who participate in horse sports to learn more about the socioeconomic factors in the industry. © Hilary Brown, UK Photo

Are all horse people rich? Or is that just a stereotype? An international study is seeking to find out more about the people who take part in horse activities and sports.

Although there are generalizations about who participates in horse sports, it is unclear if these are reflective of accurate socioeconomic factors or are perceptions based on stereotypes.

University of Kentucky researchers Karin Pekarchik and Kimberly Tumlin are running a research survey to better understand who participates in horse activities and sports.

Portrait of a Rider: Characterizing Active Participants in Horse Activities and Horse Sports will help qualify socioeconomic factors and type of participation of equestrians, which includes any person – rider, handler, worker – who interacts with horses. They aim to receive completed surveys from at least 1000 people internationally to create a statistically valid portrait of who participates in horse activities. The online survey is open to anyone over the age of 18 and closes on March 31.

The pair say that compared to the amount of research on horse health, little research has been conducted on equestrians, despite the economic importance of this industry globally.

“This survey is an important step in making sure we understand who participates in the industry, where they are, and generally get more detail on their backgrounds. There are some pressures to participation rates and workforce development in different areas of the industry, and this is one way to give everyone an opportunity to be counted,” Pekarchik said.

Tumlin said there were many pre-conceived notions that being involved in the equine industry is precluded by having economic stability. “This survey is aimed at understanding potential disparities that we have observed but are not widely documented in the various sectors of equestrian participation.”

Rider spine study also under way

Pekarchik and Tumlin are also working with Mike Sama, Ph.D., PE, an engineer at the University of Kentucky, to explore impacts of biomechanical forces on the jockey/equestrian spine more fully. Funding for that study from the UK Central Appalachian Regional Education and Research Center will also support a collaboration with the North American Racing Academy (NARA), the Lexington, Kentucky, race-training program. NARA’s students will participate in both live animal and simulated racing experiences while wearing newly engineered sensor systems that will measure spine forces.

Eventually, Pekarchik and Tumlin will compare the impacts of riding to other sports activities to better understand the effects on the body.

In 2018, Pekarchik (College of Agriculture, Food and Environment) and Tumlin (College of Public Health), co-founded an international community of practice focused on equestrian health. Female Equestrian Community of Practice members are researchers, instructors, and practitioners in fields related to equestrianism, and as a group, they are writing a comprehensive publication that will outline the strengths and weaknesses of the research currently available about equestrian/handler health, making recommendations to further address health and wellness of participants in the equestrian industry.

Broadly, the publication will provide information about who participates in equestrian activities; riding and working with horses across the lifespan; the psychology of riding; and biomechanics, saddle fit, and equipment. The final paper is expected to be published no later than 2021.

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