Data from major survey points to an aging US horse population

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America's horse population is aging, the results of a federal survey reveal.
America’s horse population is aging, the results of a federal survey reveal.

The percentage of American horses used in pleasure riding has remained steady over the last decade, freshly published research has shown.

Fresh findings from a major equine survey conducted by the US Department of Agriculture that paints a picture of the industry in 2015 have been released, with the latest report focused on selected equine health and management practices.

Data collected in the 2015 National Animal Health Monitoring System Equine Study can be compared to findings from similar studies in 2005 and 1998.

The data relates only to properties with five or more equines, with roughly half the US states taking part.

Figures show that the percentage of operations that primarily used equids for pleasure was similar across the three surveys, at 46.1% for 1998, 45.7% for 2005 and and 47.2% for 2015.

The percentage of operations that primarily used equids for farm/ranch work was growing, from 18.7% in 1998, to 24.8% in 2005, and 25.0% in 2015.

However, the figures have to be viewed in the context of a declining horse population across the US. The survey authors cited 2012 Census of Agriculture data indicating there were 3,621,348 horses and ponies
on US farms in 2012, which represents a decline from 4,028,827 reported in the 2007 census.

Several breed registries observed falls in new foal registrations from 2007 to 2012, which was attributed to the financial recession.

In contrast, the number of mules, burros, and donkeys increased from 283,806 in 2007 to 292,590 in 2012.

The survey findings reveal that large operations, with 20 or more equids, represented a higher percentage of all equine operations in 1998 and 2015 than in 2005. Small operations (5 to 9 equids) made up the majority of all operations in each study year.

The percentage of equids on large operations was similar in 1998 and 2015 (39.4% and 41.9% respectively) but was lower in 2005 (29.7%).

Over half of all equids resided on operations with 10 or more equids in 1998, 2005, and 2015.

In all three study years, more than 90 percent of operations had full-size horses. A higher percentage of operations had donkeys or burros in 2005 and 2015 than in 1998. A higher percentage of operations had miniature horses in 2015 (12.7%) than in 1998 (5.4%) or 2005 (7.2%).

The percentage of the equine population 20 years of age or older increased across the study
years (5.6, 7.6, and 11.4%, respectively), while the percentage of the overall equine population younger than 5 years of age was lower in 2015 than in 1998 or 2005.

“These key findings suggest an aging equine population with fewer foals born in 2015 than in previous study years,” the authors of the report said.

The overall percentage of foals aged 30 days or less that died was similar in all three studies, with between 4 and 6% of foals born alive dying in the first 30 days of life.

The highest mortality rate in all three studies occurred in equids 20 years of age or older.

The percentage of equids aged 20 or older who died was lower in 2015 than in 1998 or 2005.

Looking at selected equine diseases, the survey found that the prevalence of equine infectious anemia had declined dramatically since the start of control efforts in 1972.

In 2015, 1.35 million Coggins tests for the disease were performed, with the prevalence of positive
equids recorded at 0.005 percent.

There has also been a dramatic decline in the number of equine West Nile Virus cases since fully licensed horses vaccines became available in 2003. There were 5181 West Nile cases in equids reported in 2003 compared with just 225 in 2015.

Large outbreaks of vesicular stomatitis occurred in 2014 and 2015. There were 435 premises across
four states that reported cases in 2014, and 823 premises in eight states that reported cases in 2015.

The report can be read here

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