In a state that derives an important part of its identity from horses, it's surprising the number of horses that reside in Kentucky isn't known. In a collaborative effort, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, the University of Kentucky Equine Initiative, the Kentucky Horse Council, and the Kentucky Equine Education Project plan to change that this fall with a statewide count of Kentucky's horse population.
The project - called "Horses Count" - will help demonstrate the economic value the horse industry brings to the state of Kentucky, said Jim Navolio, outgoing executive director of KEEP.
"We'll be able to then demonstrate with credible information to everybody else - all policy makers in the state - just exactly what the horse industry is worth," Navolio said. "That's why this is really valuable."
A count of this caliber has never been completed in the Bluegrass State. While there are somewhat accurate estimates based on formulas and other studies, the information isn't current, nor is there existing data based on breed and primary type of use, officials said.
Gene Clabes, who will assume the position of interim executive director following Navolio's Aug. 31 retirement, said the count would help Kentucky maintain its status as "Horse Capital of the World."
(Clabes will hold the executive director position until a KEEP hiring subcommittee finds a replacement for Navolio, who earlier this year announced his plans to retire.)
The "Horses Count" project will be launched with a campaign that will spread the word through horse associations' membership, county extension offices, local equine businesses, and the general public.
The count itself will consist of an anonymous survey of all horse owners and facilities in the state, as well as a physical count in several counties by project participants. Results will be used for marketing efforts for the equine industry, as well as a source of information for policy decisions and legislative activities.
"We plan to use these numbers as a basis for what we hope is an ongoing program with these organizations," University of Kentucky equine specialist and associate professor Bob Coleman said in a statement. "These numbers are vital to every aspect of Kentucky's horse industry, from animal health issues to economic impact numbers for each county. This is something that has been needed for some time."