The UK equine industry is four times bigger than official statistics show.

Previous figures indicated there were 3,450 equine businesses in Britain, employing 20,700 employees — making it a low priority for government funding.

But a recent study by land-based skills sector council Lantra, found there are more than 19,000 businesses — a 450% increase on previous stats — and 41,000 employees, a 98% increase.

The results also indicate the industry is growing despite difficult economic times.

Employees and employers at livery, racing and competition yards and riding schools took part in the research launched in December 2009.

Lantra will use the results to lobby the government for more funding for equestrian skills training.

“People outside the equine world think that working with horses is more of a hobby, so it is important that we identify how vital this industry is to the UK economy,” said Amy Cosgrove of Lantra.

Although 98% of businesses surveyed felt their employees had the right skills to do the job efficiently, employer focus groups identified a need for improved training, saying college students often didn’t have the practical skills required.

And around 48% of businesses that provided training in the previous 12 months would have liked to have provided more, but felt it was too expensive.

Lantra worked with organisations including the British Grooms Association (BGA), British Equestrian Federation and British Equestrian Trade Association.

A further meeting in March will determine what moves are made next.

Lucy Katan from the BGA told H&H: “This research was much needed — it identifies how many professional grooms there are.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (13 January, 2011)