By TIM THORNBERRY
LEXINGTON, Ky. — For those living in Kentucky, the sight of horses throughout the countryside is nothing new or unexpected, but just how many are here has been an educated guess.
New data, however, are now available thanks to the 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey. Initial findings were recently released with updated numbers of horses according to breed and facilities devoted to the animals.
The survey, which was the most comprehensive study of its kind since the last one undertaken in 1977, shows Kentucky is home to 242,400 horses with a total value of equine and equine-related assets estimated at $23.4 billion. The study also identified 35,000 equine operations and 1.1 million acres devoted to equine use.
This assessment was conducted by the Kentucky field office of the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service between June-October 2012 and was a survey of all breeds of horses, ponies, donkeys and mules, according to information from the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Agriculture. It provided assistance with the project, along with the Kentucky Horse Council (KHC).
“The value of Kentucky’s equine and equine-related assets, such as land and buildings, is significantly larger than other states for which we have data, and it serves to underscore that Kentucky is the Horse Capital of the World,” said Jill Stowe, UK associate professor in agricultural economics and project lead.
The numbers have grown since the 1977 survey. Stowe said the head count then stood at 204,000, with Thoroughbreds making up the largest portion of that number – as is also the case today. Another similarity is that trail riding was and remains the most popular horse activity.
But the survey was not without its surprises. Stowe said the thought has been Quarter Horses were the more common breed here, despite the popularity of the Thoroughbred.
“I’ve been here in Kentucky for 4.5 years now, and since moving here I was told that Quarter Horses were more prevalent than Thoroughbreds, but I never saw any data to back that up,” she said.
“This study indicates there are 54,000 Thoroughbreds and 42,000 Quarter Horses. I think a number of people, myself included, were mildly surprised that the results came out in that order.”
Another surprise, according to Ginny Grulke, executive director of the KHC, was the number of Standardbreds, or trotters, still in the state. Kentucky was once prevalent in the Standardbred industry but over the years that sector has all but died out here.
Not so, reflects the survey. The count today stands at 9,500, evidence of a strong presence, she said.
“I thought that was an interesting number and hopefully bodes well for the Standardbred industry, in terms of making some rationalization for support,” Grulke said.
She added the survey proved to be more positive than she thought, and said it’s a strong statement about the horse industry as a whole despite the declines in revenue over the last few years.
“It is still a strong industry. I think we can use these numbers to good advantage and it reinforces the economic value of the assets of the horses and the farm income created and the jobs it’s creating,” she said.
According to the study, the estimated value of the counted horses in the state is about $6.3 billion. The value of equine-related assets, which include land, buildings, vehicles, equipment, feed, supplies, tack and equestrian clothing, is an estimated $17.1 billion.
Stowe said since the recession, she thinks it’s important to have this kind of data as it relates to the equine industry. “There has been a lot of antidotal evidence that horses have been leaving the state, but our elected officials wanted numbers; they wanted proof and it wasn’t available,” she said.
“So now, at least, having this data gives us a benchmark against which we can measure future changes. The plan is to be able to replicate something like this, possibly on a smaller scale but using the same techniques, every five to 10 years so we can keep better tabs on what is going on.”
This initial information is just one phase of the project. An economic impact study’s results are expected later this year.
While this portion is significant as an inventory, the forthcoming economic study will provide a real picture of just what the horse industry is worth to the state.
“Upcoming economic impact analysis results will provide even more details regarding the importance of the industry to the state’s economy,” Stowe said. “The industry is vibrant across the state, so we do expect there are significant impacts. It touches just about everybody in one way or another.”
There will also be a county-by-county analysis of the equine industry, which will give an even closer look at the overall picture, noted Stowe.
For more about the 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey, visit the UK Ag Equine Programs website at www2.ca.uky.edu/ equine/kyequinesurvey or the KHC’s website at www.kentuckyhorse.org