US horse industry shows stability in face of Covid-19 pandemic – survey

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The results from the 2021 survey reveal overall stability in the US horse industry despite the unique challenges posed by Covid-19.
Photo by Ravi_Shah

The horse industry in the United States appears to have shown resilience against the Covid-19 pandemic, with the numbers of horses owned or managed being fairly stable, a fresh survey shows.

However, more than 85% of respondents have experienced an increase in horse-keeping costs.

The survey, by American Horse Publications (AHP) and sponsored by Zoetis, includes responses from 7267 horse owners/managers. The survey serves as an important benchmark in the health of the equine industry now and in the future.

It found that the top three issues facing the industry center on land use, horses in transition or at risk, and the increased cost of horse-keeping.

While vaccination rates are stable, survey respondents indicated they are following updated deworming recommendations and adjusting their frequency if needed, with a trend toward using anti-parasitic drugs less frequently.

The results also pointed to the increased prominence of veterinarians in providing routine health care, such as vaccinating and deworming.

The survey indicated that about 20% of horse owners and managers used telemedicine to provide equine health care services during the pandemic. This may become a regular tool for improving equine health.

The results from the 2021 survey reveal overall stability in the US horse industry despite the unique challenges posed by Covid-19, said Jill Stowe, 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 to April 9, follows similar surveys in 2009-2010, 2012, 2015 and 2018.

The average respondent was found to own or manage about six horses, and 75.2% of respondents indicated that the number of horses they currently owned or managed was the same as in 2020. In all, 10.4% of respondents said they owned or managed more horses than they did in 2020.

Growth in the number of horses owned/managed is more prevalent among respondents in the youngest age group, 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.

Event participation

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 horse-keeping 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 horse-keeping 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 horse-keeping costs could force businesses to raise prices even if they don’t want to.

Looking at how to accommodate for horse-keeping costs, most respondents reported they will reduce spending in other areas of their lives (60%), attend fewer competitions (22.2%) and pursue other income opportunities (21.3%).

Industry issues

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 the 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.

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.
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. Photo by Treasssure
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 percentage 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.

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%).

Deworming

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 deworming up to six 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.

The 2021 survey was limited to those who currently own or manage at least one horse, are 18 years of age or older and live in the United States. The survey collected 8029 responses, of which 7267 were useable.

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