Of all U.S. households, only 1.3% own horses. However, there are about 7.2 million horses in the U.S. identified by the American Horse Council (AHC) in 2017. An elaborate report was produced in 2019 comparing the state of the equine industry between 2005 and 2018 [Lord, R. The Equine Industry: Competing Beliefs, Changes, and Conflicts. Muma Business Review, June 2019; vol 3, no. 9].
Another survey done by the American Horse Publications (AHP) in 2018 revealed similar findings to the AHC survey.
Here are some interesting points from American Horse Council’s findings on horses in the United States.
2005 vs. 2017
The largest numbers of horse owners are from age groups 25-59, comprising 65% of the horse-owning population. Young rider ownership, age 18-24, has decreased by 11.3% between 2005 and 2017. The age group of 45-59-year-olds dropped 18% in ownership. However, in 2005, only 6% of horse owners were over age 60, whereas in 2017, 18% were 60 years or older. The author of the AHC comparison report suggested that the same group that owned horses in 2005 are older now and continue to own horses, and horses are living longer.
The predominant gender of horse owners is women (93% in the AHP study). With regard to horse-related activity of horse owners, 20% are involved as horse trainers; 17% give lessons and instruction; 19% are farm managers; 14% are breeders; and veterinary and farrier activities each account for 5%. A compilation of boarding and equine-assisted therapy are included in other activities that make up 23%.
Another interesting point is that 16% participate in horse activities without actually owning a horse. Also, 13.2% spectate, but do not own a horse or participate in the events.
In part due to the financial crisis of 2008, the competition circuit of the equine industry is down by 55% since 2005. Similarly, recreational use decreased 19% between 2005 and 2017. Horse use (AHP survey) since 2015 shows a slight downward trend in pleasure and trail riding activities, whereas idle, retired, or non-working numbers of horses show a slight upward trend since 2015. In contrast, the racing industry increased by 45% since 2005, possibly due to the availability of internet betting that attracts more spectators.
Besides concern for the issue of the unwanted horse (37.8%), the largest concerns of horse owners in the AHP 2018 survey were the cost of horsekeeping (36%), loss of trail and riding areas (29.5%), and competition for open space from developers and other agricultural uses (27.8%).
Overall, of total horses in the United States, there has been a decrease of horse ownership of 21% since 2005. Despite that grim news, in a 2015 survey (Zoetis and the American Horse Council) and a 2018 survey (Zoetis and the American Horse Publications), nearly three-quarters of horse owners own the same number of horses since the previous year, and more than 80% stated that they will own at least the same, if not more, in the next year. Roughly 93% of competitors plan to compete a similar amount to the previous year.
The AHP report offers good news that the “equine industry appears to have stabilized” since the recession of 2008-2009.