Lexington’s Advantages in the Equine Industry

The horse industry is a leading sector of Kentucky’s economy. Over 72,000 jobs are supported by the horse industry in Kentucky and horses were among the state’s top 25 exports in 2014, totaling $175 million. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey, there are 242,400 horses in Kentucky and 2011 equine-related sales totaled approximately $1.2 billion.

Lexington and the Bluegrass Region are a substantial part of Kentucky’s horse industry. The 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey estimates that there are 67,500 horses in the Bluegrass Region and 24,600 in Lexington alone. Let’s put that in perspective. Kentucky has 39,486 square miles of land and Fayette County has 283 square miles of land. That means that Fayette County takes up less than 1% of Kentucky’s land but is home to 10% of Kentucky’s horses. Similarly, the Bluegrass Region is 5% of Kentucky’s land area but contains 27.8% of Kentucky’s horses.

The equine industry is also at the heart of Lexington’s culture. Just driving through the city, visitors will encounter streets named after famous racehorses — such as Citation Boulevard, Man O’War Boulevard, and Sir Barton Way, to name only a few — and over 80 unique art horses. These icons were placed throughout Lexington as part of Horse Mania 2010, a public arts project celebrating Lexington’s horses and artists. It’s no wonder that Lexington was ranked #6 Most Inspiring City for Young Artists and #7 Best City for Quality of Life.

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Selection of Horse Mania art horses ready for auction. Image by Eventing Nation.

Lexington and the Bluegrass Region have a strong infrastructure to support the horse industry. According to VisitLex, there are approximately 150 horse farms in Lexington and about 450 in the region. Horse farms typically focus on a specific breed of horse and farms in the Bluegrass Region tend to specialize in breeding and training Thoroughbred horses for racing. The 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey estimates that there are over 17,000 Thoroughbred horses in Fayette County valued at $2.5 billion and 42,210 Thoroughbred horses in the Bluegrass Region valued at over $4.9 billion.

In addition to horse farms, Lexington is home to the Red Mile Harness Track, Keeneland Race Track, the Kentucky Horse Park, the International Museum of the Horse, equestrian retirement facilities such as Old Friends Farm, world class equine medical facilities, and research and development at the University of Kentucky, a leader in animal sciences and equine research.

Horse racing is a major part of the horse industry and living in Lexington. The Red Mile Harness Track is the second oldest harness track in the country, known for its one-mile track made of red clay. However, Keeneland is the more popular racing facility, drawing the world’s best horses. Thousands of people every year flock to Keeneland to bet on the horses and spend time enjoying the festive atmosphere in a unique entertainment venue, and the Keeneland Library is one of the largest resources for horse and racing information in the world with approximately 30,000 books, 400,000 photographic negatives, and thousands of other historic documents.

Keeneland is also a significant contributor to Lexington’s local economy. The University of Kentucky’s Center for Business and Economic Research recently conducted a study to determine Keeneland’s impact on Fayette County’s economy by surveying participants at the 2014 Fall Meet, the September Yearling Sale, and the November Breeding Sale. All together, these three events generated $75.6 million in direct spending in Fayette County and almost $6.4 million in tax revenue that would not have entered Fayette County without Keeneland. In total, Keeneland’s Fall Economic Impact was $455 million. (Read more here.)

In 2015, Lexington hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championship at Keeneland for the first time. Lexington welcomed the Breeders’ Cup with a week of events and activities, such as the Feeders’ Cup, the annual Thriller Parade, Here Come the Mummies, the Post Position Draw party, the Prelude to the Cup, art exhibits, horse farm tours, breakfasts at the track, and live music. The city expected 24,000 to 40,000 visitors each day, bringing revenue to Lexington’s restaurants, shops, and hotels that otherwise would not have entered the local economy. The economic impact is expected to be at least $65 million. (More detailed information can be found in last week’s blog post.)

The Kentucky Horse Park is another asset of the region’s horse industry. With 1,200 acres, the Kentucky Horse Park is a working farm with 50 breeds of horses. Over 30 equine management and breed organizations are located in the park, including the National Horse Center, the United States Equestrian Federation, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, and the International Museum of the Horse, the largest, most comprehensive horse museum in the world.

Many equestrian events are held at the Kentucky Horse Park, including the Rolex Three Day Event, the National Reining Championship, and the 2010 World Equestrian Games. In fact, Lexington was the first location outside of Europe to host the World Equestrian Games, a testament to Lexington’s equestrian culture and strong equine industry. Of the more than 507,000 Game attendees, 70% were from out-of-state, meaning that Lexington’s horse industry attracted 307,000 people that otherwise would not have spent money in Lexington (direct spending was $128.2 million). In total, the 2010 Games brought $4.5 million in local tax revenue to Lexington and $18.38 million to Kentucky in state tax revenue.

Lexington and Kentucky are also home to the best equine medical facilities in the world, including  Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital and Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. Furthermore, the University of Kentucky and its continued efforts to advance equine research have been valuable assets to the horse industry.

The University of Kentucky Ag Equine Programs serves the equine industry by offering several testing services, reference laboratories, seminars, library and information services, diagnostic services by the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL), and evaluation of horse pastures. Every year the VDL processes over 53,000 cases and the Horse Pasture Evaluation Program has evaluated over 18,000 farm acres. Top equine research is conducted at the Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center. In 2014, more than 80 faculty and graduate students were engaged in equine research, supported by 20 research grants totaling almost $2 million.

With a highly educated workforce, access to top colleges and universities, a strong commitment to equine R&D, two race tracks, thousands of horses, and a prominent horse culture, the equine industry will continue to thrive in Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region!

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