Kentucky can rightly claim its title as the "horse capital," at least of the United States, according to results from the 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey.
Figures released by the University of Kentucky show that there are 242,400 horses in the state and equine-related assets worth an estimated $23.4 billion.
That is double the $12.1 billion pre-recession levels found in New York in 2005 by a similar study, said Jill Stowe, the UK researcher leading the project. Data isn't available for California, Texas or Florida, other states with significant horse populations.
The horses themselves in Kentucky are worth an estimated $6.3 billion. The land, buildings, vehicles, feed, tack and equestrian clothing is worth $17.1 billion.
Total equine-related sales and income in 2011 was about $1.1 billion, with $521.1 million from the sale of horses and $491 million from services provided, including breeding and non-breeding such as training, lessons, boarding and farriers.
Stowe and others will analyze the survey data for economic impact of the horse industry on the state's economy; those results should be released in mid-2013. County-level survey results also are expected to be released soon.
"I'm very anxious to get the county-level data," Stowe said. "Everybody's been asking for it."
Stowe said it's a "mild surprise" that quarter horses are not the biggest population, as had long been assumed
According to the statewide survey, Thoroughbreds are the most populous breed at 54,000 horses; quarter horses are next at 42,000. They are followed by Tennessee walking horses, 36,000; Saddlebreds, 14,000; donkeys, mules and burros, and mountain horse breeds collectively, 12,5000; and Standardbreds (harness racing horses), 9,500.
There also are 7,000 ponies and 5,100 draft horses.
Nancy Cox, associate dean of research for UK's College of Agriculture, said she hopes that the survey and economic analysis will provide a sound foundation for policy decisions. "This study is very timely," Cox said.
The goal was to quantify for the first time the total equine population by breed and by use. The data probably will be used to shore up arguments for economic benefits for the horse industry, which has long lobbied for expanded gambling at racetracks.
The horse industry also has sought to expand to horse farms the agricultural tax break that other farms enjoy.
That would eliminate sales tax on horse-related purchases for 35,000 equine operations, according to the survey.
Ginny Grulke, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Council, which commissioned the study, said Wednesday that the data might prove useful for groups pushing for slots or a tax break, but it might have much broader economic development implications as well.
"One area we feel is important is for local officials who are not aware of how many horses there are in their region and the possibilities for economic development, such as tourism," Grulke said. "For instance, trail rides are very popular. The county-level data will show where the clusters of people are. And show us where to concentrate our efforts."
Most of Kentucky's horses (79,500) are used for trail riding or pleasure riding. Broodmares (38,000) are the second-largest group. About 33,000 were idle, 24,500 were competition or show horses, 23,000 were young horses, about 15,000 were racehorses, 12,500 were used for work/transportation, and 3,900 were breeding stallions.
Expenditures of the year totaled about $1.2 billion, including the purchase of horses. Operating expenses totaled $839 million, with about 77 percent of that spent in Kentucky.
The estimated $600,000 study was paid for by a combination of horse industry donations and a matching grant provided by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund. The survey was conducted with the help of the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.
BY THE NUMBERS
1.1 million acres devoted to equine use
$23.4 billion in equine-related assets
$6.3 billion: total value of horses
$17.1 billion: total value of land, buildings, vehicles, equipment, feed, supplies, tack and clothing
42,000 quarter horses
36,000 Tennessee walking horses
12,500 donkeys, mules and burros, mountain horse breeds
5,100 draft horses
79,500 used for trail riding/pleasure riding
33,000 horses idle/not working
23,000 yearlings, weanlings and foals
3,900 breeding stallions
13,000 other activities
35,000 equine operations
56 percent farms or ranches
33 percent personal use
3 percent boarding, training or riding facilities
2 percent breeding operations
$1.1 billion in equine-related sales and income in 2011
$521.1 million in horse sales income
$491 million from breeding, training, lessons, boarding, farriers, transportation, purses, incentives, etc.
$1.2 billion in equine-related expenditures in 2011
$337 million in purchases of horses, land, improvements and buildings
$839 million in operating expenditures, including boarding, feed, bedding, supplies, farrier services, breeding, maintenance, insurance, utilities and fuel, taxes, rent, shipping, training, etc.
77 percent of operating expenses spent in Kentucky.
SOURCE: 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey
Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: janetpattonhl.