Kentucky's Horse Industry
Kentucky ranks #1 nationally in horse sales, and is home to 242,400 equine (horses, donkeys, mules, etc.). There are approximately 35,000 horse farms in Kentucky, and 1.1 million acres of land in the state is devoted to equine use.
The total value of the state's horses and horse-related assets is estimated at $23.4 billion. Total horse-related sales were more than $900 million in 2017.
Top horse breeds/equine:
American Quarter Horse - About the Breed
Tennessee Walking Horse - About the Breed
Other (unregistered or cross-breds)
American Saddlebred* - About the Breed
Donkeys, Mules & Burros - Donkeys are often used to guard calves, sheep, and goats from predators.
Mountain Horse Breeds* - About the Breed
* Breed developed in Kentucky
Top horse counties in Kentucky:
Sources: Kentucky Equine Survey, University of Kentucky, Kentucky Equine Education Project, Economic Research Service
Horses in the Bluegrass State
A Horse’s Impact
Horses have been and continue to be an important part of our economy and culture. Kentucky is home to 242,400 horses and 35,000 horse farms. More than 1 million acres in Kentucky are devoted to equine use. While Kentucky may not have more horses than Texas, California, or Florida, Kentucky horse sales bring nearly $1 billion to the commonwealth each year. This is due to the large number of Thoroughbred horses born, raised, and sold in Kentucky for a career in racing. Most of those Thoroughbreds can be found in the central Bluegrass region near Lexington.
Other breeds of horses, such as the Quarter Horse, Tennessee Walking Horse, Saddlebred, and Mountain Horses, are also popular, but they are primarily used for recreational riding and showing. Large draft horse breeds are also still used in Kentucky for farm work, transportation, and pulling competitions.
In addition to generating income in the commonwealth, the horse industry is a huge job creator. In fact, there are more than 32, 000 jobs related to the horse industry. Some jobs work directly with horses, such as trainers, veterinarians, groomers, jockeys, and horse van drivers. Other jobs indirectly serve horses, like feed mill employees, construction workers, marketers, and insurance agents.
Caring for a horse
Keeping a horse healthy requires time, money, and responsibility. Horses need to eat between 1.5-3% of their body weight in food a day depending on their age and use. At least half of their diet should come from leafy forages such as pasture and hay. Horses also need access to clean water as they need to drink 5-10 gallons a day. Horses hooves, coats, and teeth require regular care as well.
Mares will carry their foals for 11 months. Most foals are born between January and April, and they are weaned from their mothers when they are about 6 months of age. Training begins when they are between 2 and 4 years old. The average lifespan of a horse is 25 to 30 years. A horse’s diet is made up of high quality grasses, hays, and grains such as oats, barley, and corn.
The Kentucky Derby
The Run for the Roses is the oldest continuous sporting event in the United States. While we are used to it taking place on the first Saturday in May, the first Derby took place on a Monday in 1875. It was organized by the Louisville Jockey Club and drew 10,000 spectators. Over the years, the club almost went bankrupt twice - until Matt Winn took over the course in 1902. He turned the event into what it is today - a celebration of southern culture complete with glamorous stars, special hats, a garland of roses for the winner, and regional favorites like mint juleps and burgoo.The Kentucky Derby is a big tourism event - tourists spend more than 160 million dollars over Derby weekend. The event remains popular - the largest crowd ever recorded was in 2015, when more than 170,000 people crowded around the “Twin Spires” to see American Pharoah claim the 1.24 million dollar prize. In its long history, only three mares have won the Kentucky Derby.
Horses are important to many Kentuckians. They bring tourism to the area, they boost the economy, and they are a source of pride for many in the Bluegrass State.