The Breeding Tide Turns

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The heyday of horse breeding is over--so over that it might surprise you to learn by how much, and which breeds are seeing the greatest impact.

Consider this: According to statistics gathered and published in the January 08 issue of Horse & Rider's sister publication, EQUUS, here's how registration numbers of various breeds differ between those recorded in 1997 and 2007:

* Appaloosa, down 45%
* Arabian, down 41%
* Tennessee Walking Horse, down 34%
* Paint, down 25%
* Half Arabian, down 23%
* Saddlebred, down 11%
* Morgan, down 6%
* Standardbred, down 3%

Of the breeds studied, only two--Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred, showed increase in registrations. Quarter Horse numbers were up 35%, Thoroughbred numbers were up 7%.

But what the EQUUS stats don't show is that the tide's turned even for Quarter Horses, which until recently appeared to be downturn-proof, with growth recorded every year since 1992. In 2005 and 2006, AQHA registered approximately 165,000 horses; its estimate for 2007 shows a decline of 15,000.

With the many forces buffeting the horse market, the culture, and the economy at large, this downturn isn't surprising. Instead, it's a necessary response to the supply-demand equation.

Because guess what? Transfer-of-ownership statistics are on a similar downward trend. That's a reality-based indicator of what most of us are seeing individually--horses just aren't selling like they were a decade or so ago.

I was an equine journalist in the last big downturn of 20 years ago. The change-causing factors were different then, but the end results were ones we can expect this time around as well.

This is a shakedown period. Some horse-world entities will adapt and survive, and others won't. And the whole horse economy will be different when all the dust gets settled.

Where are you placing your bets?