The Ups and Downs of U.S. Horse Registrations
A look at how equine registrations, transfers, and memberships have risen and declined over the past 20 years
Does it seem like we have fewer horses in the United States than we did 10, 15, or 20 years ago? According to American equine registration data collected over the past two decades, if you’ve noticed more empty pastures and smaller breed shows, it’s probably because breeders are producing and registering fewer animals. Debbie Fuentes, registrar of the Arabian Horse Association (AHA), based in Aurora, Colorado, collects and curates that industry data. Each year for the past decade she has contacted her contemporaries at 13 American horse registries and solicited registration, transfer, and membership numbers.
Fuentes, who’s worked at the AHA for nearly 20 years, has watched and documented equine registrations as the major breed associations hit their peaks—in 2002 with a total of nearly 328,000 horses registered—and then crashed following the Great Recession to a low of less than half the high (about 151,000) just a decade later. (Have you ever wondered why it seems like there are so many senior horses today? Consider that 1995 saw nearly a quarter million horses registered, which all entered their 20s this year.)
These numbers don’t represent the entire U.S. equine population, but rather papered horses in specific registries included in Fuentes’ data set. These associations track breed or breed mix numbers, register foals born each year, record and confirm pedigrees, track ownership transfers, and tally show results. However, in the 2005 USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) National Animal Health Surveillance Monitoring study—the most recent of its kind; the next study is currently underway, and you can read about it at TheHorse.com/35502—researchers found that just less than 50% of American horses are unregistered (or their papers are lost), grade, or mix-breed.
Nevertheless, gathering registration numbers helps Fuentes monitor the industry and plan for the future. Her data include the number of horses registered each year (presumably foals and young horses), ownership transfers, and association membership numbers. The breeds she tracks include
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