Horse head count

Kentucky survey helps state gauge impact of equine industry
Published on November 01, 2013
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The horse industry has taken a hit since the Great Recession began five years ago.
There are far fewer horses and owners, as evidenced by the declining number of registrations with several breed registries. Thoroughbred foals registered with The Jockey Club numbered 23,500 in 2012 compared with 38,099 in 2006. The Standardbred industry also reported decreasing foal crops, citing 9,441 foals registered in 2012 compared with 14,106 in 2006. And the number of new registrations in the U.S. for American Quarter Horses was 68,902 in the U.S. in 2012, which is down more than 6,323 from the previous year.

Dr. Mats H.T. Troedsson, director of the Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky, said, on the basis of his contact with practices, caseloads have gone down, and large practices have contracted.

The Kentucky Equine Survey team anticipates that new data will help policy makers set policy, aid entrepreneurs and business owners in developing business plans, assist veterinarians with disease surveillance, help community planners facilitate future projects, and provide important benchmarks for the state. (Photos courtesy of UK Ag Equine Programs)
“And quite obviously, if fewer horses are bred, broodmare work will be less, but I would be surprised if people around central Kentucky at least feel there’s a lack of veterinarians. I think the impression is that, if anything, there is an overpopulation of veterinarians here. If you go to other parts of Kentucky you may hear another version,” Dr. Troedsson said.

But now, Kentucky practitioners, horse owners, and policy makers no longer have to speculate. 

By the numbers

The 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey looking at the horse industry in Kentucky—a major hub of racing, competition, and breeding activity—showed that the horse industry had a total economic impact of almost $3 billion and generated 40,665 jobs last year.

On Sept. 6, the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s Ag Equine Programs and Kentucky Horse Council, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, released the economic impact figures from the 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey of all breeds of horses, ponies, donkeys and mules. This was the first such wide-ranging study of Kentucky’s equine industry since 1977 and the first detailed economic impact survey about the state industry.

Equine-related expenditures by equine operations in Kentucky totaled about $1.2 billion in 2012. Operating expenditures—including expenses paid for boarding, feed, veterinary services, farrier services, training, and other fees—totaled $839 million.
Looking specifically at the estimated impact of each sector of the equine industry, breeding represented the highest employment figure of 16,198, an output of $710 million, and a value-added impact of $333 million. Racing had the highest output impact at $1.28 billion, with a figure of 6,251 in employment and $601 million in value-added impact. Competition figures were 2,708 in employment, $635 million in output, and $297 million in value-added impact. Recreation had 594 in employment, $166 million in output, and $78 million in value-added impact. The “other” sector, which accounts for operations such as therapeutic riding facilities and those where horses are used for work, had an employment figure of 14,914, a $194 million output, and a $91 million value-added impact.  
The first phase of the survey was released this past January and measured Kentucky’s equine and asset inventory. That portion of the survey found that the state is home to 242,400 horses, and the total value of Kentucky’s equine and equine-related assets is estimated at $23.4 billion. The survey’s results identified 35,000 equine operations and 1.1 million acres devoted to equine use.
The survey also determined that 56 percent of Kentucky’s equine operations are farms or ranches, and 30 percent are for personal use, while 3 percent are boarding, training, or riding facilities. Breeding operations accounted for
2 percent.

Most horses inventoried were light horses (216,300), followed by donkeys and mules (14,000), ponies (7,000), and draft horses (5,100). Thoroughbreds represent the most numerous breed in the state (54,000), followed by American Quarter Horses (42,000), Tennessee Walking Horses (36,000), American Saddlebreds (14,000), donkeys and mules (14,000), Mountain Horse breeds (12,500), Standardbreds (9,500), miniature horses (7,000), ponies (7,000), American Paint Horses (6,500), and Arabian and Half-Arabian horses (5,500).

The primary uses of most of Kentucky’s horses are trail riding/pleasure (79,500), followed by use as broodmares (38,000); horses currently idle/not working (33,000); for competition/show (24,500); horses currently growing, including yearlings, weanlings, and foals (23,000); for racing (15,000); for work/transportation (12,500); as breeding stallions (3,900); and for other activities (13,000).  

Data-based decisions

C. Jill Stowe, PhD, University of Kentucky Ag Equine Programs director and survey project leader, said the survey has been a long time in the making. It took 2 1/2 years to put together and cost $600,000, with two-thirds going directly to the NASS. 

Researchers traveled the state for five months and met with equine groups to gain support and identify horse owners so they could be included in the list of names from which a sample of 15,000 were drawn who ultimately received the questionnaires.

To estimate the number of horse owners they missed, NASS representatives visited 279 parcels of land and went door to door.

Dr. Stowe say she hopes they can replicate the survey every 10 years or, perhaps, on a smaller scale more frequently.

“We need to be more nimble. If we could figure out a reasonable way to do a study like this every five years, it would allow the industry to react to changes more quickly. In addition, with the current data we have, there are further studies we’d like to do,” Dr. Stowe said, such as looking at equine operations that intend to make a profit and analyzing how they operate.  

She anticipates the survey’s results guiding everything from disease surveillance to the location for new equestrian trails to policy decisions. For example, in Kentucky, feed for livestock is exempt from sales tax, but feed for horses is not. Dr. Stowe said this survey gives estimated figures on how much money would be involved if the state were to make horse feed sales tax-exempt.  

She adds that the survey data will be beneficial in guiding business owners and entrepreneurs on decisions about what kind of business to start and where, or if they should expand. In either case, the information allows these individuals to put together a solid business plan. 
A veterinarian from Shelby County contacted her a year ago wanting to know how many horses were in the county, because he wanted to expand his veterinary clinic but to first make sure there was sufficient demand.
“With this data, now we know where the industry stands, so that if another recession occurs, we can measure changes,” Dr. Stowe said. “One reason the industry came to us again to ask for help was because the recession hit, and farms were closing and horses leaving. However, there were no data available to measure those trends. Now, we have a benchmark and can measure future changes.”
Dr. Troedsson said what he took from the survey was that “it shows the horse industry still has a large impact on the economy. I think that was good news.”
Other states that have done similar surveys in the past decade include Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, New Jersey, and New  York. Dr. Troedsson encourages more states to do them.   
“To me, the significance of the study is that we now have data to make business plans and base lobbying activity on and to confirm that the horse industry is important to the Kentucky economy, as it gives context for state revenues,” he said. 
“I think it’s absolutely essential to have data to back up the importance of the horse industry to the economy if we want anything back from the state.”  



More information about the 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey,
including a copy of the final report and appendices, 
can be found here.