Kentucky has long been known as The Horse Capital of the World, although some would argue that the title actually belongs to the Bluegrass area rather than the whole state.
Our world-class Thoroughbred breeding farms certainly have earned this title, as the horses born here continue to dominate the national and international sales and racing markets. These horses also continue to dominate winners' circles at racetracks, proving that Kentucky Thoroughbred farms produce not just quantity but also quality.
What the general public may not know is that Kentucky's reputation for horse production and quality go beyond the Thoroughbred race horse; often these other horse breeds and the top-notch farms they come from are hidden from public awareness.
One of the reasons that very few of us know about these horses is because this industry has not done an inventory for 30 years. We have not counted nor identified the many different breeds of horses raised and ridden across the commonwealth.
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That is about to change with the 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey. The survey is being conducted by the University of Kentucky Ag Equine Programs in partnership with the Kentucky Horse Council, and a $300,000 grant by the Governor's Office of Agriculture Policy, which must be matched by $100,000 in industry donations.
In every county, you will find horses tucked away on family farms; these horses are used for trail riding, horse-show competitions, youth activities such as 4-H, and therapeutic programs for physically or mentally challenged persons.
In every county you will find associated businesses supporting those horse owners: feed stores, tack stores, veterinarians, farriers, horse camps, horse trailer sales, truck sales, etc. The economic impact has not been measured, but will be with this survey. And in most counties you will find professional farms, both large and small, which are raising and training young horses for those riders.
In Shelby County, American Saddlebred (a native Kentucky breed) farms dominate; there are 87 farms just for the Saddlebred breed in that county, according to a tourism study. Another native Kentucky breed, oddly enough, the Rocky Mountain Horse, has breeding and training farms all across the commonwealth.
Tennessee Walking Horses are also plentiful in Kentucky and can be seen out on the trails as well as in the show rings. And our most populous breed in Kentucky is the American Quarter Horse, a breed which originated in the West but is popular with many riders due to its abilities in speed, rodeo and "cow" events, horse shows, and its quiet disposition as a pleasure horse. The number of jumping and dressage farms is rapidly expanding also, as a result of the exposure from the 2010 World Equestrian Games.
To maximize our position as Horse Capital of the World, we need to know who, what, and where these horses are; we need to supply them with the infrastructure to be able to breed, raise, train, show and sell their horses. We need to treat this industry just like it were steel or automobiles or soybeans by developing plans for future growth and competitiveness, building Kentucky's dominance in all sectors of the horse industry.
We encourage all horse owners, both professional and recreational, to contribute to this survey with financial support; a donation of any amount large or small will help provide matching funds for the grant.
A Sept. 1 deadline is looming for these matching funds. We urge all of those who benefit from this wonderful "green" industry to contribute and help us all plan for the future of our horse industry. Go to kentuckyhorse.org to find out more about this important project.