Statewide equine survey reveals horses are billion dollar industry

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Officials say results are important to state economy

By Lisa King

The first part of Phase 1 of the annual statewide equine survey is out, and the results are of particular importance to the horse industry, officials say, as the study found that the total of all equine-related sales and income for equine operations in 2011 was about $1.1 billion.

That total came from sales of all equines, estimated to be $521.1 million, and $491 million in income from services provided, including both breeding and non-breeding services such as training, lessons, boarding, farrier, transportation, purses, incentives, etc.

The second part of Phase 1 will break down these figures down by county.

The survey indicated that the vast majority of horses inventoried in the study were light horses (216,300), followed by donkeys and mules (14,000), ponies (7,000) and draft horses (5,100). Thoroughbreds are the most prevalent breed in the state (54,000), followed by Quarter Horses (42,000), Tennessee Walking Horses (36,000), Saddlebreds (14,000), donkeys, mules and burros, Mountain Horse breeds (12,500) and Standardbreds (9,500).

Hoppy Bennett, owner of Undulata Farm, said he can’t speak for how much of Kentucky’s horse revenue would come from Shelby County, but as for 14,000 Saddlebreds listed for Kentucky, he estimates that Shelby County has about one-third of those, at least.

“We have four hundred [Saddlebred] foals born in Shelby County each year, and that has been on a pretty consistent basis for at least ten years,” he said. “I have one-hundred and sixty myself and will soon have thirty-five more in foals.”

Jill Stowe, UK associate professor in agricultural economics and project lead, said countywide breakdowns, expected to be compiled in about a month, will examine sales, income, expenses and assets of those operations.

“County-level results from Phase One are expected soon,” she said. “Phase two of the project will entail an economic impact analysis of Kentucky's equine industry and that information will be available mid-2013.”

The study determined that 56 percent of Kentucky’s equine operations are farms or ranches, 30 percent are for personal use, 3 percent are for boarding, training or riding facilities, and breeding operations accounted for 2 percent.

How closely do these figures reflect the situation in Shelby County?

Jim Ellis, president of MORE (Maintain Our Rural Environment), said that although he does not have hard figures, he estimates that in Shelby County, the number of equine operations that fall into the personal use category exceed the statewide figure of 30 percent.

“I think our personal use category is higher than thirty percent in Shelby County,” he said.

Although Bennett said there are 80 plus Saddlebred farms located in Shelby County, and Ellis said he does not know how many other equines are scattered throughout the county, he said most people in Shelby County use their horses for personal activities, such as trail or pleasure riding or showing.

“I think one reason our numbers may be higher is that we are closer to a major metropolitan area than most counties,” he said, adding that a lot of people who live in the Louisville area own or board horses in Shelby County.

Ellis said that although Shelby County contains many equine breeds, the predominant ones are quarter horses and Saddlebreds, with the former used for trail riding and the latter for show horses.

The survey said the primary uses of the majority of Kentucky's equines are:

§       Trail riding/pleasure – 79,500.

§       Broodmares – 38,000.

§       Horses currently idle/not working – 33,000.

§       Competition/show – 24,500.

§       Horses currently growing, like yearlings, weanlings and foals – 23,000.

§       Racing – 15,000.

§       Work/transportation – 12,500.

§       Breeding stallions – 3,900.

§       Other activities – 13,000.

Tandy Patrick, president of the American Saddlebred Association, said she thinks the statewide percentage of 3 percent for training, boarding or riding facilities would be somewhat low locally.

“My uneducated guess would be much higher for Shelby County,” she said.

Shelby County Tourism Executive Director Katie Fussenegger said the study is important in many counties from a tourism standpoint, especially Shelby County.

“For us, horses are our number one marketing strategy which has proved to be very successful,” she said. “So we have a big interest in it, just because people ask certain questions on [horse farm] tours and we do want to be as knowledgeable as possible, so we try to do our research when it comes to the industry.”

Officials involved with the survey stress the value of the information gathered to Kentucky’s horse industry.”

“This may well be the most significant body of work ever undertaken to estimate the economic significance of horses to Kentucky," said Norman K. Luba, executive director of the North American Equine Ranching Information Council. “Kentucky Equine Survey provides us with the numbers, so we'll know how to develop programs to emphasize strengths as well as work on improving areas of need. It is an important window into the future."

And Stowe noted that Kentucky needs to keep close track of one of its most valuable assets.

"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," she said.

“"Upcoming economic impact analysis results will provide even more details regarding the importance of the industry to the state's economy."

The study was conducted by the Kentucky Field Office of the National Agriculture Statistics Service, with support and assistance by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture and the Kentucky Horse Council.