MRLS Kentucky Economic Impact: $336 Million

More than 30% of the anticipated 2002 Thoroughbred foal crop in Kentucky was lost due to mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS) this spring. The economic cost to the state from losses suffered by all horse breeds will total nearly $336 million, according to a study commissioned by Governor Paul Patton and conducted by the University of Louisville’s Department of Equine Business.

The survey of 1,024 breeders and breeding farm operations examined six different breeds of horses, but the results showed Thoroughbred breeders suffered the heaviest economic losses, accounting for more than $300 million (89%) of the total. An estimated 516 Thoroughbred foals died due to MRLS in 2001, which was 5.3% of this year’s Thoroughbred foal crop, and 2,998 pregnancies for 2002 were lost, accounting for 30.5% of the foals expected to be born in 2002.

The study estimated each lost Thoroughbred foal to have an economic impact of $85,142. The estimate includes a portion of the mare cost, the stud fee, weanling cost, and yearling cost. The losses were spread out over four years, from 2000, when this year’s foals were conceived, to 2003, when next year’s foals would have been sold as yearlings. The study estimated losses of $15.2 million in 2000, $109.4 million in 2001, $124.8 million in 2002, and $51.1 million in 2003.

Among those affected by the loss, the study said, are horse breeders, stallion owners, horse farm operations, horse sale companies, horse sale agents, veterinarians, farriers, and equine transport providers. The study’s executive summary made no mention of lost tax revenue from the sale of stallion seasons or horses sold at public auction. Also not mentioned were anticipated losses suffered by hay and feed suppliers, tack shops, and other equine-related businesses, or the impact a smaller foal crop will have on the state’s racing industry.

While the study said a reduced supply of foals could result in higher prices for yearlings in 2003, it also mentioned that MRLS could have an economic impact for several years to come. "Additional losses may also occur as a result of the scare over MRLS," the study stated, "which could result in a reduction of mares sent to Kentucky in 2002 or in lower values for mares bred in 2001. The 2001-2003 losses cited are based on a single 2001 ‘event.’ Should MRLS recur in 2002, i.e., not be a one-time event, the losses could be much more dramatic over a longer period of time."

The Quarter Horse and Paint horse breeders suffered the second-highest losses at $14 million. The study estimates 550 foals from those breeds died from MRLS in 2001 in Kentucky, or 22.1% of the anticipated foal crop, but just 409 lost pregnancies for the 2002 crop, a 16.4% loss.

About the Author

Ray Paulick

Ray Paulick is a former editor of The Blood-Horse magazine.

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