Pasture management, nutrition — and what to look for when buying hay — are top areas horse owners need to bone up on, according to a University of Minnesota survey sent to 1,000 horse owners.

“They're buying the hay; they need to know what to look for in it. That's one of the top requests we get,” says Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota regional extension educator.

Martinson headed a survey in which 680 horse owners responded, giving her an idea of what horse people want and need in the way of equine education. She says Florida is planning to do a similar survey and several other states, including Wisconsin, are interested in her results.

The average Minnesota horse owner is 44 years old, with 14 horses on a 30-acre spread, according to the survey. “Forty-five percent of them buy 81-100% of their hay, and less than 20% produce their own hay,” Martinson says.

A lot of people make a business out of their hobby. A majority of those answering said they get paid for breeding, horse sales, boarding and lessons or training. Sixteen percent of those responding to the question sell hay or straw, the survey shows.

At the same time, many indicated that they know the least about pasture management and horse nutrition. Two-thirds of those responding said they were “very likely or somewhat likely to want pasture management education; even more (626 respondents) want nutrition information,” Martinson says.

So what does this tell growers who market to horse owners?

“One thing that a lot of people are doing is handing out a fact sheet on hay, explaining to horse owners how to buy it,” Martinson says. The fact sheet she co-authored discusses topics such as how hay color may or may not mean good quality and that hay smell may indicate readily available energy, or sugar.

“But it takes a lot of education. Nobody wants first crop; they all want third crop. There needs to be some education that first crop isn't bad,” adds Martinson.

For hay producers wanting to target their marketing efforts, the survey offers interesting tidbits. Horse owners, Martinson reminds us, are usually in their 40s with an average family income ranging from $50,000 to $125,000/year. They read at least seven horse-related magazines and like short articles. “So if you're going to target an audience, put advertisements in magazines they are buying.

“The survey also shows that they think veterinarians should be providing them education, so maybe hay producers should be partnering with veterinarians to get their messages out. That's what we are doing. The university is working with local feed and tack store owners or veterinarians in putting on educational seminars.”

Local meetings were planned based on what horse owners said they want more information on.

“They admitted that they knew the least about pastures and hay, and nutrition was the second lowest. They felt they knew the most about general horse health and facilities,” Martinson says.

A fly and pest-control expert and an equine lawyer are scheduled to speak at a couple of Martinson's meetings.

“These things weren't on our radar screen before the survey,” she says.

“A couple of years ago, we only had 20 people attending; now we have two workshops coming up and are expecting 100-250 in attendance, just by the fact that we know how to market the program. We're working with local people who have face-to-face contact with horse owners.”

Martinson and her colleagues have used survey results in planning printed matter as well. “They don't want a 10-page booklet on hay; they want a one-page fact sheet on alfalfa or red clover or orchardgrass. Very specific,” she says.

For more on the University of Minnesota Horse Program, visit www.extension.umn.edu/horse. Martinson's fact sheet, and others, can be found under “Resources and Publications.”

Those wishing to hear Martinson speak on the horse owner survey should attend Hay & Forage Grower's Hay Business Conference, Mar. 8-9 in Sioux Falls, SD. For more info, visit www.hayconference.com.