This classification covers establishments primarily engaged in the production of horses and other equines such as burros, donkeys, and mules.
Horse and Other Equine Production
In 1908, when Henry Ford rolled out his first car, there were more than 21 million horses in the United States. That number eventually shrank to 3 million, as horses were no longer needed to pull military cannons, plow fields, or haul freight. The horse raising industry has been a resilient one, however. By 1996 the number of horses in the United States had risen back to 7 million head; however, the number had declined to 5.32 million by 1999, and it continued to fall in the early 2000s. The U.S. equine industry was valued at $112.1 billion in 2002.
Horses have long done America's hard work. Horses are still used on ranches and feedlots. Occasionally helicopters or motorcycles are used to gather and check cattle, but the horse is still the preferred method of transportation for the modern-day cowboy. Horses and mules are also still used as pack animals and carriage animals. Primarily, however, most horses in the United States in the early 2000s were used for pleasure. While rodeo, recreational riding, and horse shows increased in popularity, horse racing was in decline—although exports of horses used for racing did increase during the economic boom years at the turn of the twenty-first century. As a result, although yearling thoroughbred sales took by far the most money, the most growth was seen in other breeds, including unfamiliar breeds such as miniature horses.
Horse breeding establishments usually specialize in one breed of horse for a particular usage. For example, a quarter horse breeder may produce horses to be used solely for herding, cutting cattle, or quarter horse racing, whereas a paint breeder may raise horses to show at halter in a show ring, or vice versa. Whatever the purpose, the breeder depends on the reproductive capacity of the stallion and the brood mare band.
Successfully breeding domesticated horses is one of the more difficult tasks in raising livestock. A stallion that is capable of achieving a conception rate of 75 percent is regarded as acceptable, compared with a conception rate of 90 percent for a stallion in the wild, who would run with 30 to 40 mares.
Well-grown fillies (young female horses) can be bred when they are two years old so they will first foal when they are three years of age. Many breeders think it best to wait until the filly is three before breeding her for the first time. If she is properly cared for, a mare will reproduce up to 15 years of age, and even longer in many cases. Mares can be pasture bred, hand bred (a method where the stallion is brought to the mare), or artificially inseminated, a growing practice. Some breed associations, though, do not allow a foal to be registered if it was conceived through the use of artificial insemination. The Jockey Club, the main registrar of thoroughbred horses, is one of the last breed organizations that will not allow this method.
Stud farm establishments provide standing exceptional stallions, enabling horse owners to bring their mares to get bred to an animal they could not otherwise afford. The owner of an exceptional stud horse may own his/her own band of mares or only breed outside mares belonging to other people for a stud fee. Most horse farms and ranches have a combination of the two.
Foals that have just been weaned from their mother's milk in auction sales or through what is called "private treaty" can be sold as weanlings or retained on the farm and broken (the practice of training a horse to accept a saddle, a bit, and a rider) for riding. This training usually begins when the foal is about 18 months old.
Horses that show promise can be campaigned at horse shows, endurance races, ropings, rodeos, polo matches, or numerous other activities. A firm that is in the business of breeding horses may sell the offspring once a year at a production sale or consign them to an auction. There are literally hundreds of auctions around the country where such animals are consigned and sold to prospective buyers. These auctions usually feature one breed of horse.
The horse, humankind's primary method of transportation until relatively recent times, was of vital importance to America's development. Horses pulled the heavy Conestoga wagons between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and were the main tools of working farmers. In eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America, the horse was held in such high esteem that theft of such an animal was commonly held to be a hanging offense. In addition to its important role...