Conducting a Scientific Survey of an Equine Population

Having reliable data on a state’s equine industry is important for policy makers, community planners, entrepreneurs, business owners, and veterinarians.


Having reliable data on a state’s equine industry is important for policy makers, community planners, entrepreneurs, business owners, and veterinarians. The process by which the data are collected is integral in determining the reliability and accuracy of the results.

Utilizing the services of an unbiased, professional survey group may be the most efficient way of completing such a project. Many of the states that have conducted these surveys joined forces with their field office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). NASS conducts hundreds of surveys every year covering all types of commodities and livestock and are survey experts. NASS has a priority of providing unbiased statistics with the highest level of confidentiality and data security. This is especially important when dealing with sensitive information collected as a part of these surveys.

The most important step in ensuring accurate results is developing a comprehensive population list from which to sample. Most NASS field offices have a list of equine operations that are classified as “farms,” which are defined as having annual sales of at least $1,000.

However, a significant number of equine operations do not fit this definition (such as pleasure horse farms), so attempts must be made to identify and include those operations. Achieving this requires a multifaceted approach. First, researchers can request membership lists from the state’s equine associations and organizations (realize that this often requires a vote by the organization’s board or membership). Second, since not all equine enthusiasts are members of organizations, additional efforts are required to reach these individuals. For the 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey, 34 public meetings were held across the state, often planned with the assistance of county Extension agents and held in conjunction with their equine-oriented programs. The meetings helped to contact these individuals, explain the importance and benefits of the study, and encourage them to submit their contact information to NASS.

During this phase of the study, the partner groups (which usually include university and industry representatives) will also work with NASS to develop the questionnaire. NASS has a comprehensive questionnaire with standard questions, but some questions can be tailored to a state’s specific needs or interests. Providing the opportunity for survey suggestions from potential survey participants may also engender support or “buy-in” from the equine industry.

For the Kentucky Equine Survey, NASS mailed the questionnaires to a weighted, stratified random sample of equine operations in July 2012. Data collection efforts, which included mail-in responses, telephone follow-up of non-responders, and field visits commenced in August 2012 and was completed in October 2012. Results were summarized and a final narrative completed in March 2013.

Conducting a thorough and accurate statewide equine study requires collaborative efforts of researchers and industry groups, ample time for planning, raising funds (the Kentucky Equine Survey budget was $600,000), data collection, and data analysis. From start to finish, expect the project to take about two years. However, these efforts are rewarded with accurate descriptive statistics that will benefit many groups, businesses, and individuals.


  • C. Jill Stowe, PhD—859/257-7256——University of Kentucky Department of Agricultural Economics
  • Mary Rossano, PhD—859/257-7552——University of Kentucky Department of Animal and Food Sciences

This is an excerpt from Equine Disease Quarterly, funded by underwriters at Lloyd's, London, brokers, and their Kentucky agents.

About the Author

Equine Disease Quarterly

Equine Disease Quarterly is a quarterly equine disease research newsletter published by the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center, and funded by underwriters at Lloyd's of London, brokers, and their agents.

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