Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the equine industry is stable based on the number of horses owned/managed, according to the results of a survey by American Horse Publications (AHP) sponsored by Zoetis.
The survey, which includes responses from 7,267 horse owners/managers, found that the top three issues facing the industry are land use issues, horses in transition or at risk, and the increased cost of horsekeeping. And, while vaccination rates are stable, survey respondents indicated they are following updated deworming recommendations and adjusting their frequency if needed.
“The results from the 2021 AHP Equine Industry Survey reveal overall stability in the U.S. equine industry in spite of unique challenges posed by COVID-19,” said Jill Stowe, Ph.D., professor of agricultural economics at the University of Kentucky, who analyzed the data and consulted on the results. “Based on respondents’ input on management and issues facing the industry, our leaders have helpful information to guide strategic planning and decision-making for the long-term benefit of the industry.”
The survey, which was conducted from January 18 through April 9, 2021, has three primary objectives: to gauge participation trends and management practices in the U.S. equine industry, to identify critical issues facing the equine industry as perceived by those who own or manage horses, and to better understand approaches to horse health care. AHP conducted similar surveys in 2009-2010, 2012, 2015 and 2018.
Stability Through the Pandemic
The average respondent owns/manages about six horses. 75.2% of respondents indicate that the number of horses they currently own/manage is the same as in 2020, and 10.4% own/manage more horses than they did in 2020. When asked about future expectations of ownership, 73% expect to own/manage the same number of horses in 2022, 17.3% expect to own/manage more horses and 9.7% expect to own/manage fewer horses. Comparing this to the 2018 survey, we see an increase in expected stability regarding the number of horses owned/managed.
Growth in the number of horses owned/managed is more prevalent among respondents in the youngest age group as compared to the oldest group. Similar to previous studies, the frequency of owning/managing more horses in the survey year (2021) than in the previous year (2020) is decreasing with age; 21.8% of respondents in the 18-24 age category report owning/managing more horses in 2021 than in 2020, while only 5.4% of respondents in the 65+ age category report owning/managing more horses. This pattern is also consistent with expectations on horse ownership/management one year in the future: 31.1% of respondents in the 18-24 age category expect to own/manage more horses in 2022 than they do this year, while only 10.2% of respondents in the 65+ age category report the same expectation.
Survey participants indicate that they expect to compete in an average of 4.3 events in 2021, which is less than the 5 competitions reported in the 2018 study. More than 45% of the respondents do not plan on competing at all in 2021, up from 38.7% in 2018.
Feed (including both hay and concentrates) continues to be the most frequently identified area in which horsekeeping costs have increased. This is followed by costs of veterinary services (41%) and animal health products (39%), which are stable from the 2018 study.
However, the cost of barn supplies has significantly increased since 2018, from 12.2% to 22%. Frequently mentioned sources of increased costs in the “other” category were fencing, building materials and insurance. In addition, 22.2% of respondents identified fuel/transportation as a primary source of increased horsekeeping costs. It is important to note that if this survey had been conducted later in 2021, when there was a sharp increase in gas and lumber prices, this percentage may have been higher. The rise in horsekeeping costs could force businesses to raise prices even if they don’t want to.
Looking at how to accommodate for horsekeeping costs, most respondents reported they will reduce expenditures in other areas of their lives (60%), attend fewer competitions (22.2%) and pursue other income opportunities (21.3%).
Issues Facing the Equine Industry
The most frequently selected issue facing the equine industry was land use issues (43.5%), followed closely by horses in transition or at risk (43.1%), and cost of horsekeeping (42.8%). Frequently mentioned issues in the “other” category include animal rights activists, competition costs, liability and over-regulation.
Although there are overarching issues that span the entire equine industry, there are certain issues of heightened concern in particular areas of the country. For example, zip code regions 4 (Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio) and 7 (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas) had the highest percentage of respondents selecting illegal medication of performance horses and ineffective welfare laws. Respondents in zip code region 3, which includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee, were most likely to select the practice of soring as a key issue.
Horse Health Care
Veterinarians administer vaccines for 65.4% of respondents’ horses, continuing a gradual upward trend from previous surveys (58.2% in 2012, 61.4% in 2015 and 63% in 2018). The percent of respondents who administer the vaccines themselves continues to decrease, standing at 28.5% compared to 29.7% in 2018, 31.5% in 2015 and 34.7% in 2012.
Of vaccination-related issues discussed with the veterinarian, the most common is what the horse is being vaccinated for (63.7%), followed by American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) vaccination recommendations (40.6%). Since the 2018 survey, horse owners and veterinarian conversations surrounding vaccination protocols have decreased.
More than 72% of respondents indicate that their veterinarian is the leading influence for where they purchase their equine vaccines, with price being the second leading influence (13.3%).
Respondents indicate that they are adhering to new deworming recommendations. The percentage of horse owners who are deworming 1 to 3 times a year has increased, while the percentage of those who are deworming up to 6 times a year has decreased.
More than half of respondents (54.4%) indicate their veterinarian is involved in developing their horses’ deworming schedules—the first time this figure has eclipsed the 50% mark. Survey results indicate that just under 60% of respondents report their veterinarians recommend a fecal egg count test, declining from nearly 78% in 2018.
Respondents indicate that they purchase dewormers from chain stores, local feed stores and online. Veterinarians are reported to have the most influence on dewormer purchasing decisions and their role has become more prominent than indicated in previous studies.
Timing of Surveys Can Be Meaningful
The 2021 AHP Equine Industry Survey continues to build upon the first four surveys (2009-2010, 2012, 2015 and 2018) to help understand dynamics within the equine industry. The initial survey was conducted as recovery from the Great Recession in ’08 and ’09 was underway, and the following two surveys were able to track recovery in the equine industry.
“The timing of the 2021 survey is fortuitous because it comes on the heels of a worldwide economic slowdown due to the global COVID-19 pandemic—a health event not seen in more than a century,” said Dr. Stowe. “Accordingly, it can serve as an important benchmark in the health of the equine industry now and in the future.”