Kentucky Equine Survey's Horse Health Implications

The recently released 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey results don't just reveal important information on the economic impact data of the commonwealth's equine industry, they also open the door for new horse health surveillance and disease mitigating measures.

On Sept. 6 the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment’s Ag Equine Programs and the Kentucky Horse Council, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, released the economic impact figures from the first such wide-ranging study of Kentucky’s equine industry since 1977 and the first-ever detailed economic impact study about Kentucky’s equine industry. 

Craig Carter, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVPM, director of the UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, explained that simply knowing how many horses reside in Kentucky will help improve disease surveillance; for epidemiologic (the study of determinants of disease in populations) purposes, this is termed the denominator.

"From an epidemiological standpoint, the denominator on your data is almost like a mind-expanding thing to have," he said. "In theory it sounds simple, but getting the denominator data is not easy—especially in animals.

"Without the denominator, all we can really report is absolute numbers, or maybe trend absolute numbers or diagnoses, deaths, and illnesses over time—and that's a good thing to do," Carter explained. "That's still good data, but it's not giving you the precision that you get when you're able to look at the incidence, morbidity, or prevalence data.

For the first time in Kentucky for the horse, researchers and scientists can now evaluate factors such as the morbidity and mortality rates of certain diseases, disease incidence and prevalence, and disease risk. "Those things all rely on having denominator data," Carter said.

"It really will help us to get a much better handle on how diseases in the horse are impacting different regions of the state," he explained.

Similarly, E.S. "Rusty" Ford, equine programs manager for the Kentucky State Veterinarian's office, said the data obtained in the survey will help during equine disease outbreaks.

"Without question, an important factor when mitigating identified risks and developing specific disease management strategies is knowing the population and demographics you are dealing with," Ford said. "The survey data now provides us with knowledge we haven't always known to be factual, and in some instances was simply speculative.

"Information is knowledge," he continued. "And the more knowledge we have—in this instance factual population and demographic numbers, how the horses are used, etc.—will be beneficial as we continue to work to ensure our equine athletes have a safe, healthy and viable environment to participate."

Carter said the survey data will also help his laboratory produce more detailed disease maps, which will include information such as the approximate number of animals at risk in a given area.

"It will (make the maps) more meaningful," he said. "I wish we had this for all species!"

Ford concluded, "I don’t know that you can define any single portion (of the survey) to be of greatest benefit, but as a whole, the survey is invaluable by simply helping to expand our knowledge and demonstrating the importance of Kentucky’s equine industries. In my opinion, the opportunity provided by developing and expanding new relationships to parts of our industry that may not have been visibly or significantly appreciated is a positive for growing our future." 

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More information on Gluck Equine Research Center and UK Ag Equine Programs.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.