Colt McGuire on the trail
As Horse Capital
of the World,
it is fitting that
Kentucky would be
considered the origin
of two important
present day breeds:
the American Saddlebred
Rocky Mountain Horse.
Young Ashley Wiemers,
Hands-on learning is a key component to the College’s equine science and management degree program. A student can be integral to a horse’s early training, from young foal to eventual sale.
Though the racing breeds are often what people connect with Kentucky, the Kentucky Breeders' Incentive Fund lists 11 non-race breeds in the state.
A College of Agriculture student walks a horse in preparation for sale at Fasig-Tipton Sales in Lexington.
by Holly Wiemers
In Kentucky, we speak horse. It is a language heard in the state’s culture, heritage, and identity. Here in the Horse Capital of the World, horses touch the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians each year and make us world renowned.
Though our best known breed, and arguably one of Kentucky’s main economic engines, may be the Thoroughbred, the equine landscape here is varied. Outside of Thoroughbred horse racing, Kentucky has a vibrant equine industry that spans breeds, uses, and geographic locations.
In many ways, the College’s involvement in the horse industry mirrors the diversity of the industry itself. With more than 50 faculty and staff working on horse-related issues, areas of emphasis cover equine health and nutrition research, economic studies, pasture management, and the facilities and environments where horses live.
“Our College program offerings, by design, cover all types of enterprises and all types of horses,” said Nancy Cox, associate dean for research and administrative leader for UK’s Equine Initiative. “One of our cornerstone programs, the Gluck Equine Research Center, is recognized for equine disease research universal to all breeds. However, we often work on problems unique to particular breeds, such as specifically expressed genes in Quarter Horses or Saddlebreds.”
Reflecting Kentucky’s Diversity
Kentucky’s equine diversity is apparent in UK’s equine science and management undergraduate degree program. According to Bob Coleman, associate director for undergraduate education, the program’s 110 students come from all equine walks of life, differing in disciplines, breeds, and career interests.
Equine clubs within the College also run the gamut from equestrian, dressage, polo, saddle seat, and judging teams to a horse racing club. They attract many students from within and outside the College.
What all of the College’s equine students have in common is their overall interest in horses and learning.
Yellow Rose and Bob Coleman held a special fondness for each other. Yellow Rose, a Quarter Horse who was raised on Maine Chance Farm, had an easy-going temperament that was perfect in helping to train students in the College’s equine courses.
Coleman said that diversity and thirst for knowledge is also apparent around the state.
He would know. As extension horse specialist, he’s hosted Horse College, an adult equine education program, to 1,500 horse owners of varied breeds in 85 counties. They all actively use their horses, mainly for local activities and trail riding.
“They are really enthused about being in the horse industry but are cognizant about what it costs,” Coleman said. “They want the basic knowledge on how to care for their horses.”
The UK Equestrian Team is open to all students. Members, who do not have to own their own horses, compete in horse shows sponsored by the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. Host colleges provide horses for the competitors. Shown here is Ashley Meyer, a member of the 2005 team.
All Breeds Welcome
One group that exemplifies the power of participation across breeds and disciplines is the Northern Kentucky Horse Network, an organization formed in 1999 through the efforts of three UK Cooperative Extension agents in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties. In 2008, the trio of agents–Don Sorrell, Dan Allen, and Jerry Brown—were collectively named Friend of the Equine Initiative for their service to and impact on Kentucky’s horse industry.
Today, the network has more than 300 active members and includes Pendleton, Grant, Owen, Carroll, Gallatin, and Bracken counties. The organization, whose members socialize and share a passion for horses, holds clinics, trail rides, and horse shows. And it has attracted attention with activities such as large animal rescue clinics. They’ve even worked out a deal with Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to serve as watchful eyes in exchange for permission to ride on the airport’s land.
The group might be one of the most organized equine groups in the state, but their diversity in equine involvement and breed representation is a snapshot of what is happening across Kentucky.
According to the Jockey Club, 10,180 Thoroughbred foals were registered in Kentucky in 2008. While that is approximately one-third of the Thoroughbred foal crop in the United States, it’s only a fraction of the horses registered to the non-race breeds recognized by the Kentucky Breeders’ Incentive Fund.
The fund, established in 2005 to ensure the strength and growth of the horse industry in the state, is financed through the 6 percent sales tax paid for stud fees in Kentucky. According to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which administers the fund, the dollars allocated to the fund are divided among breeds—80 percent to Thoroughbreds, 13 percent to Standardbreds, and 7 percent to non-race breeds.
A total of 11 non-race breed associations participate in the fund. The largest, the Kentucky Quarter Horse Association, registered 37,611 horses in 2008. The Quarter Horse isn’t only Kentucky’s largest breed, it is the largest breed of horses worldwide.
Quarter Horses graze on the lush pastures of the College’s Maine Chance Farm.
According to Rich Wilcke, Kentucky Quarter Horse Association president, more than 14,000 individuals spread across all of the state’s counties own Quarter Horses.
It might come as a surprise to learn that though there are very good estimates, there is no official concrete tally of horses in Kentucky. Part of the reason is because the U.S. Department of Agriculture only counts horses on farms, which are defined as having a potential for $1,000 in agricultural production. That leaves out the hobbyist with small acreage.
It is estimated that many of the horses residing in Kentucky aren’t part of any official count—not a breed registry or equine organization. They are kept solely for their owners’ enjoyment.
However, collectively, this mosaic of breeds contributes heavily to the economic impact horses have on Kentucky. As Wilcke points out, they all use pastures, barns, fences, equipment, veterinarians, farriers, hay, and feed. In other words, they are contributors to Kentucky’s equine economic cluster.
Lori Garkovich, community and leadership development professor, has conducted research and expanded the concept of economic clusters to Kentucky’s equine industry. She equates Kentucky’s horse industry to other notable clusters such as Napa Valley’s wine industry in California.
As Horse Capital of the World, it is fitting that two important present day breeds—the American Saddlebred and the Rocky Mountain Horse—originated in Kentucky. Both are gaited breeds and developed as demand grew during pioneer and war times for good saddle horses.
According to the American Saddlebred Association, its registry is the oldest breed registry in the United States for an American horse breed. The Saddlebred originated as a cross between the Thoroughbred and horses brought to America by British colonists. They were considered all-purpose riding horses with easy gaits and stamina, traits that were pivotal for wartime and as settlers moved west.
The Rocky Mountain Horse originated as a utility horse in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky. These horses were hardy, easy-gaited, and had quiet dispositions. They served a dual function—as a means of transportation and as work horses on the family farm.
According to the Rocky Mountain Horse Association, the breed was almost extinct 20 years ago, but has made a resurgence. While it is concentrated in Kentucky and the Appalachian region, the breed is represented in 48 U.S. states and 11 other countries.
Devotees of the Rocky Mountain Horse include the McGuire family of Henry County. David, Phyllis and their son Colt breed, ride, and compete with Rocky Mountain horses. They are also graduates of Coleman’s Horse College. Colt plans to attend UK and major in equine science and management.
“If you ride or use a Rocky Mountain, you won’t use anything else, especially if you experience the old bloodlines,” said David McGuire. “They are a family horse, and we do this as a family.”
McGuire’s sentiments about the specialness of his breed echo those of many other horse owners. Each holds the opinion that their breed is special and reflective of Kentucky’s equine status in the world. Our dialects may differ, but our language is a common one, and in it is the distinct echo of hoof beats.◆
Jockeying for Position
HORSES were the number one agricultural crop for the state of Kentucky from 1999 through 2008, according to Kenny Burdine, extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural Economics. Farm level receipts that support that statement measure sales and stud fees and mostly reflect the Thoroughbred industry. It does not include racing, betting, horse shows, or equine-related tourism. The state generates approximately 93 percent of the country’s equine receipts.
But in 2009, there was a shift. Burdine said he expects equine receipts will show that poultry has surpassed horses as the number one agricultural crop in Kentucky.
He estimates that equine will come in between $700 and $750 million. His colleagues estimate poultry will be around $930 million.
The economic setback for the equine industry has been a big one. The equine industry has suffered a 30 percent drop during the recession. Burdine expects stud fees will be hit even harder in 2010, though sales will be similar to 2009.
Don’t write off the horse industry though. Things that go around often come around.
“I expect poultry will lead in 2009 and 2010. 2011 is anyone’s guess,” Burdine said. “I expect equine will be number one again. It’s cyclical and expected that equine receipts will follow that cycle.”