In the United States as well as in Georgia, a sizeable and diverse industry revolves around the horse. The horse is used for work and recreation, and it is admired for its beauty and athleticism.
The horse, Equus caballus, belongs to the order Perissodactyla ("odd-toed"), which includes nonruminating (not cud-chewing) hoofed animals. Equus originated in North America a million years ago and migrated throughout the rest of the world. It appears that the modern human and the modern horse developed together. This development started when humans hunted and subsisted on the flesh of horses.
Humans once used the horse as a tool for warfare, but the horse has had even greater significance as a harness animal. By 1000 B.C. the horse was being used as a draft animal in some manner in Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Regardless of size, it has no equal in pulling loads; even today we measure the performance of machinery in horsepower. Draft horses are sometimes used in Georgia for logging in places that are especially sensitive to erosion. Probably the widest use of draft horses and draft mules in the state is to pull wagons for quail hunting.
It is estimated that one in every thirty-five Americans is involved with horses in some manner. Many people own, breed, and train horses for competitive events. Horses are also widely used for recreation, such as trail riding, or to provide a tie with rural America. The American Horse Council estimates that in the United States there are 6.9 million horses, representing about 100 breeds, and more than 130 organizations are devoted to promoting and recognizing various breeds and equine activities.
The horse industry has a total economic impact of $112.1 billion on the national gross domestic product and pays a total of $1.9 billion in taxes to federal, state, and local governments. In Georgia, with about 250,000 horses, the industry has an economic impact of more than $750 million. Among Georgia's agricultural commodities in 2003, horses ranked fifth in farm gate value, or the value of the animal as it leaves the farm.
In September 1995 the Georgia International Horse Park opened in Conyers. The 1,400-acre park, built as the equestrian venue for the 1996 Olympic Games, has a 143,175-square-foot grand prix stadium and a world-class steeplechase course. The facilities host pony club events, polo matches, festivals, concerts, and hot-air-balloon races, in addition to horse trials and clinics.