Kentucky Equine Survey Reveals Resilience of State’s Equine Industry

By Holly Wiemers 

The University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Horse Council, committed to both safeguarding and promoting the well-being of equines and equine agriculture in the state, recently collaborated on the 2022 Kentucky Equine Survey. The report gathered data on all Kentucky horses, ponies, donkeys and mules.

According to the survey, the Commonwealth of Kentucky is home to 209,500 equine and the most populous breed is Thoroughbred, followed by Quarter Horse and Walking Horse. The state’s total value of equine and equine-related assets was $27.7 billion in 2022, up more than 18% from 2012. This is true even though there are currently almost 14% fewer equine living in the Commonwealth than in 2012.

Jill Stowe, professor and agricultural economist for the UK Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment Department of Agricultural Economics led the survey, a follow-up to the initial study completed in 2012. The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service implemented the survey. It was conducted in partnership with the Kentucky Horse Council and with support from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and other equine-affiliated organizations. Data collected between July and October 2022 was analyzed to determine core population demographic breakdown and economic information related to the equine industry in the commonwealth.

“In the past 10 years, Kentucky’s equine industry has seen areas of contraction along with areas of growth,” Stowe said. “Although the total number of equine and equine operations has decreased, the average value of equine has increased. Additionally, revenues for equine operations increased more than expenses, a promising metric for commercial operations. Overall, this report reinforces the economic significance of equine agriculture, which remains vibrant and strong as a signature industry in Kentucky.”

The Kentucky Equine Survey illustrated that equine are present throughout the commonwealth and that the industry needs supporting businesses, such as veterinarians and farriers, as well as fencing, feed, bedding, insurance, farm equipment, pharmaceuticals providers and specialized educational opportunities, among others.

The survey also demonstrated that Kentucky’s equine industry, particularly in the central Bluegrass region, is an economic cluster. Economic clusters are important contributors to an area’s economy; previous study results justify the support and enhancement of the state’s equine industry.

“Though the equine numbers in Kentucky have declined slightly over the past decade, this survey reinforces there are many reasons for optimism, specifically with regard to equine welfare,” said Sarah Coleman, KHC executive director. “A smaller supply of equine, coupled with the decline in nonpaid transfers, suggests that the potential for horses to become unwanted and at risk has lessened.”

UK and KHC in partnership with NASS completed a comprehensive Kentucky equine industry study in 2012, the first in more than 30 years. Survey creators intend to do follow-up studies every 10 years to accurately monitor the state of the industry in Kentucky.

“Equine agriculture is a signature industry for Kentucky,” said James MacLeod, UK Ag Equine Programs director and researcher in UK’s Gluck Equine Research Center. “This second decennial survey will provide critical information to enable informed decision-making by equine industry leaders, public policy makers, veterinary health professionals and people considering equine-related business investments.”

Stowe explained that Kentucky’s equine industry experienced significant changes in the past decade, including emerging from the Great Recession in 2008-2009, navigating a global pandemic in 2020-21 and recovering from multiple natural disasters in 2021 and 2022; all facets of the industry have had to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape, she said.

“The challenges faced–and their outcomes–are not unique to equine in the commonwealth,” she said. “Nearly all production livestock in the state, and throughout the United States, have been experiencing the same trends, for a multitude of reasons.”

While all breed numbers experienced declines from 2012 to 2022, the average value of equine increased, even after adjusting for inflation. This inflation-adjusted average value of equine increased for nearly all breeds, as well as in 82 of Kentucky’s 120 counties.

The number of equine operations in the state declined 11.4%, which triggered corresponding declines in total operation acreage (18.6%) and equine-related activity acreage (15.9%). In addition, the number of acres held in land preservation programs was down 3.9%.

Kentucky’s decline in equine and equine operation numbers mirrors those found nationwide by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture. The contraction in Kentucky’s equine industry is similar to beef cattle production across the nation, which is at its lowest level since 1962.

An important trend for commercial equine operations is the marked increase in income and sales over the past 10 years. Expenses have increased, but at a lower rate than revenues. After adjusting for inflation, operating expenses, not including labor, were just marginally higher than in 2012 and capital expenditures were up 131%. Labor expenses (payroll and non-wage benefits) increased approximately 134%.

Study highlights include:

  • Though there are currently fewer equine living in the Commonwealth (209,500) than in the 2012 study (242,400), the total value of equine and equine-related assets in Kentucky increased from $23.4 billion in 2012 to $27.7 billion in 2022.
  • Kentucky is home to approximately 31,000 equine operations.
  • Acreage devoted to equine use in Kentucky is 84.1% of that in 2012 (900,000 acres in 2022, compared with 1.1 million acres in 2012).
  • Total equine-related income from sales and services for equine operations in 2022 was almost $2.1 billion, up from $1.1 billion in 2012, while expenses have increased from $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion; 82% of operating expenses are spent in Kentucky.
  • The top 10 most populous breeds in the commonwealth are Thoroughbreds (48,500), Quarter Horses (35,000), Walking Horses (28,500), donkeys and mules (13,500), Saddlebreds (12,000), Mountain Horse breeds (10,500), Standardbreds (9,200), Warmbloods (7,000), pony breeds (6,400) and Miniature Horses (6,100).
  • The state’s top-five primary uses include trail/pleasure riding (62,500), broodmare (33,500), idle, retired or otherwise not working (32,500), growing horse (foal/weanling/yearling) (22,000), and competition/show (20,000).
  • There were 12,500 workers reported on Kentucky equine operations during 2022. This includes 6,300 full-time and 6,200 part-time employees. Total payroll expenses amounted to $322 million.

For the full report and access to all supplementary material, please visit

Writer: Holly Wiemers

Image available on request.

(Caption) Data collected between July and October 2022 was analyzed to determine core population demographic breakdown and economic information related to the commonwealth’s equine industry. Photo by Mark Pearson.

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