March 10, 2014

Animal health companies should create opportunities to connect with horse owners

By Kaelin Hanks

Relationships are tight inside a horse owner’s sphere of influence. There is a solid line between owners and their vets, barn owners, farriers, and even retail outlets. All carry weight when it comes to guiding owners' decision making.

I venture to say the lines get fuzzier in the connection between horse owners and animal health companies—despite the fact that, on a daily basis, owners are making choices on nutrition, supplements, medications and vaccines, all provided by animal health companies.

I’ve worked with horses since I was big enough to toddle to the barn. Now in my professional career, I consult with organizations in the equine industry—among others—and I have the vantage point of seeing the market through two different lenses: that of a horse owner, and that of those who support them.

With more than 9 million horses and 2 million owners, the U.S. equine market is a complicated matrix of disciplines, geographies and interests. Given this complexity, animal health companies should always be looking for ways to connect with horse owners—getting involved with them, getting their feedback, and educating them about effective care inside a myriad of possible solutions. How do businesses serving horse owners identify the best industry segments to serve, and then target their marketing efforts accordingly?  What makes an owner purchase one supplement over another? What are vets talking about with horse owners?

Not long ago I was working on a project in the equine industry and did a little informal research with vets and vet students. Most of them told me compliance is a big issue with horse owners—not following through on prescriptions and treatment recommendations. Why do owners sometimes stop giving their horse prescribed medication before the dosage cycle is complete? What do owners know about deworming schedules and protocols? What’s behind their decisions about vaccinations?

When it comes to vaccinating horses, owners likely fall into one of two camps. First, there is the traditional route of getting the vaccines from their vet. Then there is the rising trend of owners purchasing vaccines from the local farm store and administering the treatment themselves.

Economic times certainly have left a mark in the equine industry—raising horses is a costly endeavor with high standards, one that is difficult to maintain when times are tough financially. I would speculate the do-it-yourselfers are driven mostly by cost-savings and efficiency; although by choosing this route, owners sacrifice the knowledge and better health information they get when their vet handles the vaccines. Nonetheless, equine vets are finding their pharmaceutical sales are more and more in competition with retailers that sell OTC medications.

Ultimately, it’s the horse owner’s decision on where they go to address their horses’ vaccine, health care and dietary needs. What makes owners go to their vet over the farm store, or vice versa? Knowing the answers to questions like this can help form a stronger relationship between horse owners and the brands they choose, and may also help improve compliance with medications.

As a horse owner seeking health and wellness solutions for my horses, I’m going to consult with those I trust to learn as much information as possible before I make a decision. Whether it’s choosing a supplement or a dewormer, or deciding on a vaccine—before I make the decision, I want to understand how and why one is the right course of action over another. This is one place where animal health companies can strengthen their link with owners…to help get useful information to the owners and help facilitate transparency among all the channels in the sphere of influence.

Entira is in the initial planning stages of a research project that will connect animal health companies and horse owners to learn what drives their decision-making. It will be a collaborative study designed to dig deeper into the purchasing behavior of today’s horse owner. It will aim to help businesses serving the equine market go get to the heart of how horse owners make decisions about horse care, feed, equipment, supplies and other items. If you’re interested in learning more, please contact Entira at info@entira.net.