LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A new survey of Kentucky's equine industry harnessed big numbers to back up its bragging rights as the world's horse capital — nearly a quarter-million horses were counted with a total value surpassing $20 billion for animals and related assets.
The Kentucky Equine Survey found that the Bluegrass state was home to 242,400 horses in 2011.
Thoroughbreds — the sleek horses bred for racing and most commonly associated with the state — were the overall winner as the most prevalent breed at 54,000. Quarter horses numbered 42,000, followed by 36,000 Tennessee walking horses and 14,000 saddlebreds.
The statewide survey estimated the total value of horses and horse-related assets at $23.4 billion.
The findings reaffirm Kentucky's status as the pacesetter in the equine industry, officials said.
"It tells me that Kentucky is still the horse capital of the world," said Kentucky Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, a key horse industry supporter. "It's a vital part of our economy, our heritage and our worldwide image."
The value of Kentucky's horses and related assets far outpaced other states with similar data, said Jill Stowe, an associate professor of agricultural economics at the University of Kentucky who led the 2012 survey. Kentucky's figure was nearly twice the amount in New York, which had the next highest figure based on a study done in the mid-2000s before the recession, she said.
The last such comprehensive snapshot of Kentucky's horse industry was done in 1977. It showed the state had 204,000 horses, but that study did not assess the asset value of horses and related property.
The latest results are the first phase of a survey conducted by the Kentucky field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, with help from the UK College of Agriculture and the Kentucky Horse Council.
The information will be useful for farm businesses and veterinarians to know how many horses are in a particular area, Stowe said. County-level results from the horse count are expected soon.
Another round of data due out in mid-2013 will spotlight the economic impact from Kentucky's horse industry.
Surveys were sent out to horse owners across the state — from renowned thoroughbred farms to people who own one or two horses.
The survey identified 35,000 equine operations and 1.1 million acres devoted to the horse sector.
It found that biggest single role of Kentucky horses is for trailing or pleasure riding, with 79,500 horses handing those chores.
The state had 38,000 broodmares whose role is to create offspring, the survey said. Another 24,500 horses are entered in competitions or shows, 15,000 compete in racing and 3,900 are breeding stallions.
The state's 242,400 horses have a total estimated value of $6.3 billion, it said. The estimated value of horse-related assets — including land, buildings, vehicles, equipment, feed, supplies, tack and equestrian clothing, is $17.1 billion.
"It indicates that the horse industry has weathered the economy fairly well," Thayer said.
Equine-related sales and income totaled about $1.1 billion in 2011, the survey said.
Horse operations spent an estimated $337 million on a range of capital expenditures that included horse purchases, property, equipment and improvements, it said. Operating expenses totaled $839 million and included boarding, feed, bedding, veterinary bills, supplies, farrier services, breeding fees, insurance, utilities, fuel, taxes, training fees and maintenance and repair costs.
The survey comes at a time of anxiety as the state's horse-racing industry struggles to compete with tracks in states that bolster purses with revenue from casino gambling. Kentucky lawmakers have resisted allowing slot machines at the state's tracks.
The number of live racing days has shrunk at some Kentucky tracks as they struggle to offer the prize money needed to attract horses.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also compiles horse counts as part of its census every five years. It doesn't count horses that aren't kept on farms, which could miss such places as boarding stables and non-farm land where horses are kept for pleasure riding.
Its latest census in 2007 showed Kentucky had 175,503 horses on 22,242 farms.