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Q: Population of Horses 1880-2000 ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Population of Horses 1880-2000
Category: Science > Agriculture and Farming
Asked by: hamiltonian-ga
List Price: $30.00
Posted: 16 Jan 2003 19:57 PST
Expires: 15 Feb 2003 19:57 PST
Question ID: 144565
I need statistics on the population of horses both in the wild and
farm animals during the period 1850-2000 for the US and Europe from a
good source (e.g. UN or US Department of Agriculture) as well as for
the entire world population (this last can be estimates as hard data
is usually not available).

Request for Question Clarification by knowledge_seeker-ga on 17 Jan 2003 09:59 PST
Hi hamiltonian-ga

I just want you to know that I am working on your question, but have
run into a number of road blocks, primarily at the European end of

What I have so far is:

Current US Populations for wild and domestic horses- actual census
Past US Population estimates for domestic horses for:  1867,
1915,1949, 1950's, 1957
Past US Populations for wild horses: Rough estimate for “late 1800’s
and actual census data for 1971

Current Domestic Populations for: UK, Finland, France, Germany
Past Data: Finland 1950’s.

Except for the US Population census studies, most of these numbers are
not first-hand from statistical data but are numbers that are
referenced in articles and reports.

For example:

“One of the main reasons for this decreased influenza activity may be
the high percentage of the German horse population covered by
vaccination programmes. It is estimated that approximately 65% of the
680,000 horses in the country are vaccinated regularly against equine
influenza virus.”

Equine Influenza
November, 1998. Report from the 8th Int. Conf. Eq. Inf. Diseases

If you could just let me know if this kind of data is acceptable to
you, then I’ll continue to look for similar sources. Otherwise, I’m
afraid we’re not going to get there. Much of the European data has
been accumulated by individual countries and thus is not in one place.
Also, many of those countries seem more interested in tracking
specific breed populations (ie. Andalusian Horses in Spain) and race
horses as opposed to the overall equine numbers.

Rather than put more time into this and possibly head in the wrong
direction, I’ll wait to see what you have to say. Please let me know
how you’d like to proceed.


Request for Question Clarification by knowledge_seeker-ga on 18 Jan 2003 10:06 PST
Hi again Hamiltonian,

Well, since I didn't want to give up on your question quite yet, I did
some more research and I have found a complete and reputable report of
equine populations world-wide, broken down by country for 1996-98.

So we have all the present-day data and some of the historical data
for the US, but virtually no historical data for Europe.

After all the hours I've put on on this, I don't anticipate being able
to find verifiable numbers for the late 1800's in Europe. I really
can't think of anywhere else to search. Given that, should I post what
I have as an answer or would you prefer to hold out for the full data?
In which case I'll defer to another researcher who may be able to find
what I can't.

By the way ... is your screen name a play on the famous race horse,
Hambletonian? Just wondering :-)


Clarification of Question by hamiltonian-ga on 18 Jan 2003 10:36 PST
For the European data, it is Ok if you restrict to the major
countries, i.e. UK, France and Germany.  Second hand references are
ok, if source is of academic quality, such as the conference on equine
diseases you use as an example.

Clarification of Question by hamiltonian-ga on 18 Jan 2003 17:10 PST
"After all the hours I've put on on this, I don't anticipate being
to find verifiable numbers for the late 1800's in Europe."

I'd really need some quality data from Europe, pre-1900's, even if
restricted to the major European countries...
Subject: Re: Population of Horses 1880-2000
Answered By: knowledge_seeker-ga on 19 Jan 2003 12:26 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Hi Hamiltonian, 

Well, I’ve researched this as far as I can and have a fairly solid
collection of numbers for you. Immediately below is a summary of the
numbers, gleaned from all of the available sources. Below that are the
actual sources and quoted material from which I took the information.
I’ve also provided some explanatory material of my own and some of my
assessments of the quality of the sources.

The weakest data are the historical wild horse count for the US and
the historical data for Europe.



119,121,000   (Annual Average - 1996-1998) 

*Equine figures include horses (Equus caballus), asses (Equus asinus),
and hybrids between horses and asses.


60 - 65 million 


Domestic and Recreational Horses:  6.9 million

Wild Horses & Burros:  46, 500
Horses: 43,629     
Burros:  4,995


1867 – 8,000,000
1915 – 21,500,000
1949 – 6,000,000
1950’s (early) - 2,000,000
1957 – 750,000 (*unreliable source? See sources below)
1960 – 3 million


1971 – 17,000 (first census)

Late 1800’s – Over 1,000,000 in Texas alone
End of 1800’s – 2 million 


7.2 million


Germany - 680,000
Finland - 57,000
France - 450,000
UK - 900 – 975,000
Scotland and Northern England – 96,620


Britain – Late Victorian Era - 3.3 million
Britain – 1900 - > 1 million farm horses
Germany – 1900 – 4 million
Europe – 1800 – 14 million

London – 1893 – 300,000 
London – 1850’s – 100,000


The two below studies are considered to be the official US counts for
domestic horses. The USDA last inventoried horses in 1971. In 1997 the
American Horse Council undertook a complete census. The USDA now uses
the figures from the American Horse Council report. Apparently the
figures are considered to be not comparable because the methods used
to obtain the numbers were not the same.

The Wild Horse populations are counted by the Bureau of Land
Management (BLM) and the US Geological Survey. The material quoted is
from the 1993 census.

Commercial and Recreational Horses

There are 6.9 million horses in the U.S., including both commercial
and recreational horses. 725,000 of those horses are involved in
racing and race horse breeding, while 1,974,000 and 2,970,000 are used
in showing and recreation, respectively. 1,262,800 are used in other
activities, such as farm and ranch work, rodeo, polo, police work,

American Horse Council


USDA – Quoting the 1997 horse industry directory. American Horse
Council, Inc., Washington, D.C.

There are 6.9 million horses in the United States


Horses on Farms Only –
1997 - 2,427,277
1992 - 2,049,522

USDA - Other Livestock and Livestock Products - Inventory and Sales:
1997 and 1992

The above, from the USDA Census of Agriculture – 1997 Report (the most


Wild Horses

Census in 1993 identified a nationwide population of 46,500 wild
horses and burros (Fig. 2). Accuracy for the 1993 census ranged from
85% to 99% on wild horses and 75% to 88% on wild burros.

USGS - Wild Horses and Burros on Public Lands

Division by State and Horses vs Burros


The numbers here don’t exactly mesh, but the overall trend is
consistent.. There was an increase in horse population throughout the
1800’s and into the early 1900’s, peaking in 1915. Then the population
started on a steady decline, falling to its lowest point around the
1950’s.  Since then there has been a steady increase to the
present-day levels. Faced with choosing the most likely accurate
numbers, I’d go with the USDA report quoted here (I couldn’t find the
original report):


1949 -   U.S.D.A. - Reported a one year 10% decline in the total
number of horses in the U.S., down to just fewer than 6 million head.
This was the smallest number of any year on record. The all time peak
of almost 21 1/2 million was reached in 1915.


* This is a pretty questionable source and the number doesn’t seem to
fit with the rest of the data. I only include it for your review.

“Although horses were once the farmer's work partners, this sector
began to experience big declines in the 1950's. At that time there
were 2 million horses in the U.S., and the number was declining. By
1957 there were only 750,000 horses.”

Equine Industry Success


“Through the 1920s horses disappeared at the rate of 500,000 a year.
Most were sold to meatpackers to be processed into dog food, bonemeal,
leather, and glue. The price of horses reached an all-time low in
1950, and the horse population continued its steady decline until only
about 3 million horses could be found in the United States in 1960…”

Overview: The State of Animals in 2001
Paul G. Irwin


“The population of wild horses and burros within those 1971 areas of
use was estimated at 17,000 animals; however, at that time no formal
inventory policies or procedures existed to census…”

USGS - Wild Horses and Burros on Public Lands


“In 1915, the horse population in America peaked at over 21 million….”
“In 1867, the rural horse population in America was estimated at
nearly eight million…”
“By the late 1800's more than a million mustangs roamed the Texas



“The horse population grew immensely during the 1800s. In 1867, the
rural horse population in America was estimated at nearly eight

(appears to be quoted from the PBS site above – or vice versa)


Mid-1880s in U.S.: 100,000 horses and mules pulling 18,000 horse cars
on 3,500 miles of track.
1900: 3.5 million horses in cities. 
Chicago: 82,000 horses produce 600,000 tons of manure per year.

“By the 1800's there were an estimated two million [feral] horses
inhabiting North America.”

F. Kirkpatrick, PhD1, and John W. Turner, Jr., PhD


“At the end of the [19th] century, families kept more than 4 million
horses for riding, driving, or companionship.




Equine Population of the UK

“After careful consideration of recent research a total population
figure of 975,000 equines has been put forward for the UK. The
population is estimated to have doubled over the last 15 years (or has
been severely underestimated in the past). This significant growth
rate represents an increase of approximately 33,333 horses per annum.”

International League for the Protection of Horses


"The total size of the equine population of Scotland and northern
England was estimated at 96,622 animals kept by 26,114 horse owners.
The mean ▒ SD age of the population was 11.0 ▒ 7.5 years with 50% of
animals male and 50% female.


With nearly half a million horses in the UK and 1.6 million households


All of the below from:

The role of the Horse in Rural Policy
JosÚ Manuel Silva Rodrigues, Director General, DG Agri European

From this EU conference

“Great Britain has 900,000 horses and ponies outside the racing

“The leading nations are France, Italy and Sweden. Totally there are
about 350000 trotting horses in Europe…”

“The number of horses in Finland reached its peak in the 1950’s, at
around 410,000. In total, there are approximately 57,000 horses in
Finland today…Today, approximately two thirds of the entire horse
population in Finland are trotting horses…”

”France has always regarded the horse as an essential player in
injecting life into its countryside, boasting almost 450,000


It is estimated that approximately 65% of the 680,000 horses in the
country [Germany]  are vaccinated regularly against equine influenza


The working horse was still the chief means of power on most farms,
and in total there were something like 3.3 million horses in late
Victorian Britain.


”In 1800, how many horses were there in Europe? How many oxen?  14
million horses; 14 million oxen...”

From: The History of American Technology


”In Germany it was estimated in 1900 that there were 4 million horses
in the country, a number of which were used in mail transport.”


”There were still one million horses at work on British farms in

The Rural History Centre, University of Reading, UK.


“It has been estimated that in 1893 there were about 300,000 working
horses in London.”

Great Northern Railway Company's hospital for horses, Totteridge


”T he city of London in the 1850s .... To feed 100, 000 horses
demanded the agricultural resources of a considerable portion of the
English countryside…. Over 100,000 horses daily depositing their waste
products on the streets of the capital created monumental problems of
sanitation, …”

Express Trains and Slow Boats:  Daily Energy Use in Victorian London


“In considering the number of horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs in the
county during the nineteenth century we have to record an increase in
the number of each class with the exception of sheep…”



Note that all over the internet there is a number of 750 million
floating around as the worldwide number of horses. This number is
nowhere near any of the more official counts and seems to be part of a
list of “quick facts” that has been passed from website to website
without any substantial documentation.

The most reliable data comes from the UN Livestock Populations Report
cited below. Though I believe the numbers refer to ALL equines, which
would include donkeys, burros, mules.

The 60 - 65 million horses estimate seems consistent across multiple
reliable sources and independent research results.


Worldwide Population Equines - 119,121,000*   (Annual Average -

*Equine figures include horses (Equus caballus), asses (Equus asinus),
and hybrids between horses and asses.

Page 1 - Table FG.4 Livestock Populations, Grain Consumed as Feed, and
Meat Production

Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,
United States Department of Agriculture


Today, the Edinburgh School of Agriculture in England has estimated
the worldwide horse population at more than 65 million, 10 million of
whom live in the United States.

*I was not able to find the original source for this


”Under the egis of the Agricultural Research Center, Department of
Agricultural Economics, Washington State University, Pullman, the
project is being conducted by Ken D. Duft and his daughter, Research
Assistant Kelley E. Duft.... The press release from Pullman...
contained some interesting horse facts: There are 65 million horses in
the world...”

Genotypic/Phenotypic Factors Impacting The Auction Sale Price For


The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2000)
estimated the world horse population to be 60 million. The total was
split including 7.2 million horses in Europe, 12 million in North
America, 10.5 million in Asia/Pacific Rim and 15 million in South

*I searched for this original data but was unable to find it. 


There are over 3 million donkeys, 3 million mules and 6 million horses
in Mexico.

”INTERNATIONAL CANADA: An Agriculture Canada Survey in 1991 found that
most of the half-million horses in Canada lived in the provinces (in
order of horse population) of Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan,
Manitoba, and British Columbia. Only 30,000 horses lived outside these
five provinces. Since 1991, the horse population has doubled to
approximately one million head...”

”With 2,6 million horses in the country, Mongolia provides excellent
opportunity for riding...”

”.... there are an estimated 2 million horses in Argentina ...”

The total size of the national [Mongolia]  herd is 33 million
livestock, including 15.1 million sheep, 11 million goats, 3.8 million
cattle, 3.1 million horses and 3.5 camels.

Australia has about 1.5 million horses, including some 400 000 feral
horses (brumbies).

Today, China is home to about 12 million horses and the breeding of
them is an important occupation


You may want to follow up on these if you have access to a University

Moore-Colyer R J. (1995) Horse breeding and horses in Victorian
Britain. Agricultural History Review 43 (1)

Moore-Colyer R J. (1995) The horse in pre-history: some speculations.
Archaeological Journal, 151

Moore-Colyer R J. (2000) Aspects of the trade in British pedigree
draught horses with the United States and Canada, c1850 - 1920.
Agricultural History Review 48 (1)


So, that should do it for you. It’s every single thing I could find on
the web. If anything I’ve said isn’t clear, or if any of the links
don’t work for you, please feel free to ask for clarification.

This question ended up being much more complex than I originally
anticipated, but I learned a great deal in my research, so the time
was well spent.

Thanks for your question.


Search Terms:

I used every imaginable combination of the following search terms
(over 75 combinations!) to include:

Horse, equine, wild horse, feral horse
Census, count, inventory, population, number, million, thousand, etc
1800, 1850, 1860, 1900... ,  Victorian, century, etc
Worldwide, Europe, US, Britain, Germany, Spain, etc

Good returns on phrases such as the following combined with country
names and date descriptors – for example:

”million horses in”

”million horses” Britain 1900
”number of horses”
”horses in”
hamiltonian-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars
This would have been a great answer except for the fact that there
does not seem to be data available from the XIX century, which is not
the researcher's fault.

Thanks. I will definitely keep Google Answers in mind for the next
time I happen to need data such as this.

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