By Olivia Maddox
Some 100 students compete on Purdue's intercollegiate horse show team, which has advanced to the national championships more than a dozen times. (photo by Jerry Steinmetz)
It's a hopeful plea made by countless numbers of children over the years. But for one reason or another, it's a wish that doesn't always come true. And that's usually where the story ended. Until now, that is.
Today, there's a new twist to that old tale. What were once just childhood dreams are becoming reality for adults. And while horse ownership comes later in life for some, others--like royalty--are born into it.
Nine-year-old Dakota Malayer is one of those with horses in her blood. Mom Shellie grew up showing on the quarter horse circuit and was a 10-year 4-H horse and pony club member in Putnam County. Dakota, who even has the same 4-H leader as her mom, followed in Shellie's footsteps this summer, showing her quarter horse Sam for the first time at the Putnam County fair.
More and more Americans today are what can be described as "horse crazy." Just how crazy? Lowell Catlett, an agricultural economist at New Mexico State, speaking at Purdue Agricultural Forecast last winter, put it into perspective: "In 1890, horses did all the agricultural work. They moved us and our freight up and down the road; 110 years later, we move them up and down the road."
Fueled by the economic boom of the last decade, families have more discretionary dollars to spend on so-called "luxury" items. But in the case of horses and companion animals, it's more than just economic prosperity; it's a trend that finds us tightening the bond that connects us with animals.
"Our social relationship with animals goes back to cave drawings," says Alan Beck, director of Purdue's Center for the Human-Animal Bond in the School of Veterinary Medicine."And it is continuing to develop as we mature as a society."
Just how many of our equine friends are found at the boarding stables, racetracks, farms and in backyards depends on who is doing the counting. And that may be where much of the problem lies, because for nearly 40 years, no one was counting heads of the nation's horse population.
"The U.S. Department of Agriculture used to estimate the number of farm horses every year," says Ralph Gann, state statistician with the Indiana Agricultural Statistics Service located at Purdue. "But this was discontinued in 1961 when horses no longer were the predominant source of farm power."