Business

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Equine industry makes huge strides in US

Small business

Ireland's reputation as a world leader in horse racing, show jumping, breeding and equine care ensures entrepreneurs who have distinguished themselves on home soil are well equipped to capitalise on opportunities there (stock photo)
Ireland's reputation as a world leader in horse racing, show jumping, breeding and equine care ensures entrepreneurs who have distinguished themselves on home soil are well equipped to capitalise on opportunities there (stock photo)

Eoin Sorohan

With an economic value of €2.6bn, the world-renowned Irish equine industry is going from strength to strength.

This success is encouraging a new wave of innovative Irish companies that are using the power of 'Brand Ireland' to make strides in international markets.

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Amid the leaps, landings and applause of the most recent Dublin Horse Show, Enterprise Ireland hosted high-profile representatives from leading US stud farms and influential veterinary practices at the RDS.

These major industry players spent three days in Ireland, where Enterprise Ireland introduced them to a range of innovative equine companies with one common objective - to increase their exports to international equine markets.

One such influencer is acclaimed veterinarian Tom Riddle.

He is the co-founder of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital.

Based in Kentucky, the home of US breeding, the hospital cares for some of the country's most valuable thoroughbreds.

Riddle described the high esteem in which the Irish horse industry is held in the US.

"In the United States, we are for the most part very impressed with the Irish as horsemen," he said.

"We are of the opinion that, if the Irish feel that it's good for a horse, then that is a very good recommendation for us."

One of Ireland's greatest success stories in this arena is Horseware, which manufactures high-quality horse blankets that are recognised worldwide.

The firm was founded in Dundalk in 1985 and has a 120,000sq ft facility in North Carolina, which is dedicated to supplying the North American market.

The prominent Irish company has built on the success of its core product and is now diversifying its offering to include therapeutic blankets and technology services.

During the Enterprise Ireland event, prospective international partners visited Horseware's headquarters.

Ken Ford, chief executive of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, in Kentucky, was impressed with what he saw.

"It was great to meet the owner, Tom [MacGuinness] and see first-hand how after 35 years of huge success, he is still very excited about their new products and the innovation they're

bringing to the market. "His energy and excitement was clear to see when he met us to share their next big thing," he said.

In the early stages in a new market, a respected voice can help establish brand credibility. An endorsement from a key opinion leader of a product or service can be of huge assistance to an exporter.

Several successful Irish companies have adopted this approach in the first instance when entering the American market.

Barbara Murphy is founder of Equilume, a producer of light therapy solutions that improve breeding efficiency in horses.

She asserts that, in addition to the close ties between the Irish and American horse industries, a second important factor for the company breaking the US market has been identifying key brand ambassadors and high-profile early adopters, who then supported Equilume's sales and marketing efforts.

"It is still a work in progress, but the take-home message is 'know your customer', and remember that one size does not fit all when it comes to messaging in such a diverse market as the US," she said.

Evidence is another key factor in selling products into the US horse industry.

If an exporter is to make claims of efficacy, peer-reviewed studies and proven use cases that support the claims will carry very significant weight.

Enterprise Ireland can assist in facilitating introductions between Irish firms and US universities and research institutions to help conduct research to support such claims.

The US, in particular, being the largest horse market in the world, has proven to be fertile ground for Irish equine companies.

Ireland's reputation as a world leader in horse racing, show jumping, breeding and equine care ensures entrepreneurs who have distinguished themselves on home soil are well equipped to capitalise on opportunities there.

  • Eoin Sorohan is a trade development executive based in Austin, Texas, focused on industrial technology for Enterprise Ireland.

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