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Economic impact of the horse industry

Quick facts

  • The total economic impact of the horse industry in the United States is $122 billion, creating 1.7 million jobs.
  • About 31 percent of United States households contain a horse enthusiast.
  • Minnesota ranks 18th for the state with the greatest horse population.
  • The horse industry contributes $1 billion and over 15,000 jobs to the Minnesota economy.

In 2017, the American Horse Council evaluated the economic impact of the horse industry in the United States. They further looked at the economic impact in individual states including Minnesota, which was made possible through support from the Minnesota Horse Council. This article summarizes the findings of the American Horse Council's economic report. 

Horse populations

The United States is home to over 7.2 million horses. Of those horses, about 145,727 reside in Minnesota, which ranks 18th in the nation for the largest horse population. The leading states for horse populations include:

  • Texas: 767,100 horses
  • California: 534,500 horses
  • Florida: 387,300 horses

Populations by breed 

The two most popular breeds in the U.S., as well as Minnesota, are the Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred. Household surveys of about 7.1 million horses in the United States indicated about 2.1 million were Quarter Horses and 1.1 million were Thoroughbreds. Similarly, household surveys of 143,000 horses in Minnesota indicated 41,000 were Quarter Horses and 20,000 were Thoroughbreds.

Household surveys didn't include horses within organizations or Amish communities.

Numbers of horses in Minnesota

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) recently released their interactive 2017 Census of Agriculture data tool that includes county-based horse numbers. Based on their data, Minnesota ranks twenty-seventh in the U.S. for horse population, is home to 8,000 horse farms, 46,879 horses and that a majority (96%) of farms have one to twenty-four horses on site. The top ten Minnesota counties for horse population include:

  1. Washington (2,466 horses)
  2. Todd (1,879 horses)
  3. Fillmore (1,691 horses)
  4. Otter Tail (1,564 horses)
  5. Stearns (1,490 horses)
  6. Olmsted (1,476 horses)
  7. Isanti (1,271 horses)
  8. Wright (1,252 horses)
  9. Hennepin (1,239 horses)
  10. Scott (1,198 horses)

A 2017 American Horse Council (AHC) study found that 145,727 horses reside in Minnesota, ranking it eighteenth in the U.S. for the most populated horse state. Based on this, many ask why there is such a discrepancy between the USDA and AHC numbers. The answer lies in how the data was collected and the organization goals.

The USDA data is collected from “farms” and the USDA defines a farm as “Any place that produces and sells at least $1,000 of an agricultural product (e.g. meat, milk, eggs, wool, honey, breeding or stud fees, etc.) in a given year." This definition excludes recreational horses and many horses kept at boarding, training and riding facilities. Therefore, the USDA NASS likely underestimates the number of horses in a state or county, but the numbers are indicative of population trends.

On the other hand, the AHC numbers include all horses, regardless of use or farm/housing definition, as they serve all segments of the horse industry. However, both numbers can be useful to individuals when exploring business, hobby or personal ventures.

Individual involvement 

While 30.5 percent of U.S. households have a horse enthusiast, only 1.3 percent own a horse. The other 29 percent includes individuals that either participate in horse activities or are spectators at horse events.

In Minnesota, about 680,000 households have horse enthusiasts, where about 29,000 own a horse. Many Minnesota horse owners take lessons (17 percent), manage barns (17 percent) and train horses (15 percent). Up to 14,000 Minnesota residents volunteer their time towards horse-related activities.

Economic impacts

United States

The U.S. horse industry directly contributes $50 billion to the economy and provides about 988,000 jobs. Direct contribution refers to economic activity occurring within the horse industry itself, such as horse care or recreation. However, these direct economic activities also prompt additional economic activity outside the horse industry. As a result, the total economic impact of the horse industry in the U.S. is $122 billion and 1.7 million jobs.


The horse industry also contributes largely to Minnesota’s economy.

  • The direct economic impact of the horse industry in Minnesota is $541 million with a creation of 15,113 jobs.
  • The total economic impact of the horse industry in Minnesota is $1 billion with a creation of 21,039 jobs. 

Economic impact by breed

Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds are the two most popular breeds in Minnesota. As a result, these breeds drive the most horse-related economic activity in Minnesota.

Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds contribute 7,964 jobs and a total value added of $397 million to the economy. Value added refers to the industry’s impact on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds bring a total value of $693 million to the Minnesota economy, which includes the value added and the cost of goods used to produce a final product (intermediate expenditure).

Economic impact by sector 

Horses are most commonly used for recreational activities such as lessons and trail riding. Over 10 percent of Minnesota households participate in trail riding and 8.4 percent participate in riding lessons. These activities drive spending on horse care, activity fees and equipment. As a result, recreation in Minnesota contributes 7,181 jobs and a $341 million value added to the economy. 

In addition to recreational activities, many participate in competitive horse events in Minnesota. Competition requires a variety of goods and services including training, specialized equipment and feed, travel arrangements, facilities etc. Furthermore, varying disciplines, age groups and competition levels increase the participation in competitive events and leads to differences in spending. Horse competition in Minnesota contributes 7,666 jobs and a $366 million value added to the economy.

The third major sector in the horse industry is racing. Minnesota is home to two racetracks that host about 122 live race days. The racing sector drives an array of economic activity including spending on training, breeding, jockey fees, facilities, broadcasting services and wagering. Racing in Minnesota contributes 2,044 jobs and a $123 million value added to the economy.


For more information

The full reports for the horse industry’s economic impact in the U.S. and Minnesota may be purchased from the American Horse Council.

Authors: Hannah Lochner, Extension livestock communications specialist, Krishona Martinson, equine Extension specialist, and Abby Schuft, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2024

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