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Equine events benefit community's economy
HOUSTON, Miss. -- Chickasaw County residents are feeling the ripple effect of renovating a dilapidated agri-center three years ago.
"Horse events can have a tremendous economic impact on a community," said Angie Abrams, Chickasaw County 4-H agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. "The agri-center renovation didn't just benefit a handful of people with horses. It has helped local businesses, youth development and other groups needing a large covered space for specific activities."
The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce constructed the facility in the late 1970s. Time and extensive use took a toll on the 40-year-old facility, creating safety and security issues.
“Our local state legislators attended one of our major horse shows on a rainy afternoon several years ago. They saw firsthand the need for renovations and the potential for economic impact on the community,” Abrams said. “They were able to secure a $250,000 grant to use for the needed repairs and improvements.”
Abrams said more than 40 different horse events took place at the center on weekends last year, and any time the center hosts a horse show, the local restaurants, gas stations and other businesses feel it.
“Having the perfect facility right here in our community has boosted interest in equestrian activities,” she said. “Local horse owners are actively organizing events that attract visitors from all across north Mississippi.”
Abrams said all ages use the facility.
“The agri-center provides a place for families to participate in activities together,” she said. “Most of all, keeping a young person interested in horses will keep them out of any trouble. They may be horsing around at midnight, but most of the time mom and dad are with them.”
Hannah Johnson Branson practically grew up at the agri-center and has watched Chickasaw County equine activities wax and wane over the years.
“In general, there aren’t as many places to show horses as we had 15 or 20 years ago,” Branson said. “The improvements at the agri-center have sparked renewed interest in horses and other community activities.”
Branson said the improvements exceeded expectations.
“They took an area that was nonfunctional and made it useful when they created the outdoor arena for warming up and other activities,” she said. “The entire facility has helped strengthen the local horse community. It is convenient and cost efficient to compete at local shows. It’s much easier on us and our vehicles.”
The Chickasaw County Board of Supervisors appointed representatives from each district to oversee the center. Composed primarily of horse enthusiasts, the committee set priorities for the renovation, oversaw the work and continues to offer guidance.
“This committee stretched the state money as far as it could be stretched,” said Scott Cagle, Chickasaw County Extension agent. “They repaired the roof, replaced outdated lights, renovated the outdoor arena and added secured interior storage. They renovated and painted interior spaces, the bathrooms, concession stands and kitchen. The icing on the cake was the new sign placed on top of the building.”
Cagle said Extension’s role as a facilitator for the center’s use and care has been a good fit.
“Extension activities are among the most frequent needs for the facility. In addition to horse shows, we also have had dog shows, ag safety programs and sport fishing events there,” he said. “The steering committee meets at our office and reservations for the center are arranged through our office, too.”
Committee member Tim Cook said the facility is especially popular during the winter months. Horse owners will rent the facility for personal practice. Throughout the year, events such as rodeos, barrel races and open horse shows are common.
“It is not unusual to be at a gas pump and see someone pull up with a horse trailer and out-of-county license plates,” Cook said. “Even as a committee member, it’s hard to keep up with all the activities going on at the agri-center.”
Abrams, who has taken part in Chickasaw County equestrian activities for three decades, said the center is able to pay for itself now.
“We are easily renting it out three times as much as before the renovations,” she said. “And not only are we having more events, but we have larger participation numbers, drawing from horse owners in the surrounding counties and beyond.”
Events held at the Chickasaw County Agri-Center include the Deep South Rodeo, team ropings, ranch rodeos, National Barrel Horse Association and open barrel races, Golden Triangle Horse Show Association Open Horse Shows and monthly 4-H horse events.