Empire State: Equine Support Businesses Booming But Still Room For Growth

by | 07.29.2015 | 2:56pm
Upstate Equine Medical Center in Schuylerville, N.Y.

Part of the purpose behind any state's Thoroughbred development fund is to bring new commerce into the area, and of course, a horse's economic impact doesn't stop at its board bill. Everything from the trailer that hauls horses into the state to the nails that hold their shoes on helps drive small businesses.

In New York, where the breeding industry has been on the upswing for several seasons in a row, some parts of its Thoroughbred infrastructure is growing faster than others.

Veterinary services in New York have expanded rapidly in the past few years. Rood and Riddle partner Dr. Scott Ahlschwede moved to Saratoga Springs in 2012. In three short years, Rood and Riddle has gone from a two-person New York branch to a full-service hospital with nine physicians that is this year undergoing an “extreme makeover.”

Ahlschwede reported that the renovation, set to be finished later this year, will quadruple the practice's square footage and include a new surgery facility modeled after Rood and Riddle's Central Kentucky facility, a radiology laboratory, an ambulatory garage, and a nuclear scintigraphy building with four climate-controlled stalls. Podiatrist Dr. Bob Agne shifted from Central Kentucky to New York full-time in early July, adding to the clinic's roster of services.

“It's a huge commitment we're making to the spot we have here,” said Ahlschwede. “I came up here by myself and got my foot in the door … my business doubled the first year and probably doubled again when we bought the clinic and added some veterinarians.”

Construction continues on Rood and Riddle's overhaul to serve its New York clients

Construction continues on Rood and Riddle's overhaul to serve its New York clients

This expansion comes even as the Ruffian Equine Medical Center reopened at Belmont Park through Cornell a year ago. The center includes five veterinarians that served an estimated 1,000 horses in its first year, both Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, as well as a few sport horses. The Ruffian Center also boasts a nuclear scintigraphy machine plus a standing MRI. There are plans to install a CT scanner and aquatread system.

If it seems like that's a lot of technology in a limited geographic area, Dr. Steven Sedrish of Upstate Equine Medical Center, located just a few miles east of the Rood and Riddle facility, said there's plenty of room in the New York pool for everyone when it comes to veterinary care.

“When Rood and Riddle opened up we actually saw our business increase. I think there's a different clientele that they're drawing from. There's a really good working relationship between the two hospitals,” said Sedrish.

Upstate was established in Schuylerville in 2008 and Sedrish said the clinic still sees patients hauling in from as far away as Finger Lakes and Belmont Park (both about 3 ½ hours away) on a routine basis.

“People are funny—if they have good luck with someone, they tend to stick with them,” said Sedrish. “You're only as good as your last episode.”

Other types of equine support services have seen rapid growth in the past couple of years, too. Bart Stark, owner of Stark Equine Transportation, said he's making a lot more runs between New York and Kentucky or Florida, and that there's a lot of intrastate business, as well.

“There has always been a lot of back-and-forth for broodmares and stallions, but just in the last two years, it's coming full circle—there are a lot more people racing, and a lot of people who are returning horses from racetrack to farm,” said Stark. “I just can't keep up with [all the interstate travel]. I just take a small piece of the pie, and it keeps getting bigger and bigger even for me.”

Bart Stark of Stark Horse Transport talks with an exercise rider

Bart Stark of Stark Horse Transport talks with an exercise rider

Unlike Central Kentucky's Thoroughbred business, which is largely localized around Lexington, New York's Thoroughbreds are scattered all over the state, which complicates matters for veterinarians and other practitioners trying to care for them.

“My personal practice is really big. I drive a lot of miles. Logistically, it's way more challenging,,” said Ahlschwede, who noted Rood and Riddle's podiatrist treks to Long Island periodically to see clients. “It's a fact of life up here that you have to go farther, or people have to bring their horses a little farther.”

Becky Thomas of Sequel New York in Hudson said there are still a few equine support services in New York that could benefit from growth. In particular, she hopes some more experienced farriers find their way north in the coming years. Although the quality of available care in New York is strong, Thomas believes the state needs professionals with more Thoroughbred-focused experience to keep up with the increasing demand for work.

“The biggest problem in New York right now is education,” said Thomas. “We are so highly tuned toward going towards sales … a lot of the breeders in New York have never been exposed to that, so they don't know to ask their blacksmiths about [that work.]

“Usually the better blacksmiths in New York … they're booked. Just like in Lexington, if you have just four or five horses, you're not going to get the Bobby Langleys of the world. That's absolutely an area that's growing and we do need. And a lot of it, I think, is people in outside areas don't understand there's a need for quality blacksmiths there.”

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