Equestrian Canada's 2023 Study - Canada’s Vibrant Horse Industry
Impacts and Opportunities
By Tania Millen, BSc, MJ
Horses are pets, performance athletes and livestock. They’re kept in backyards, on farms, at boarding stables, and working ranches in Canada. The horse industry encompasses professional riders, everyday horse enthusiasts, animal care experts, and thousands of businesses in the farming, ranching, sport, agriculture, and entertainment sectors. Hard numbers about jobs, taxes, the industry’s financial contributions, and who’s involved are imperative for discussions with provincial and federal government agencies. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of information about the needs of boarding facilities, coaching barns, and horse farms limited the financial support they received. There was simply no baseline of information about the people, horses, and businesses in the industry; the revenue it creates; or potential impacts of lockdowns.
“The last time Canada’s horse industry was surveyed nationally was in 2010,” says Melanie McLearon at Equestrian Canada (EC). “But the sector has changed. The economy has changed. So, we needed to better understand our industry and its contributions.”
That need for understanding resulted in EC commissioning research on Canada’s equine sector by Wilton Consulting Group (WCG) and Serecon in 2023. Their report, The Canadian Equine Sector: Socio-Economic Insights 2023, summarizes an online survey completed by 4,263 Canadians representing 19,491 individuals in the horse industry, 40 interviews with industry representatives, data research, and an economic analysis.
Substantial Economic Benefits
“The industry is contributing to the Canadian economy in a significant way, even though it’s a niche industry,” says McLearon.
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Canadians who kept horses in 2022 directly spent over $8.3 billion on buildings, fences, equipment, repairs, feed, bedding, veterinary and farrier care, travel, tack, insurance and other products and services. The largest expenditures were over $1.1 billion on feed, over $900 million on travel, and over $850 million worth of veterinary care.
Competitors and horses travel extensively to participate in various activities including shows and events, but this can lead to increased disease outbreaks. More than a third of survey respondents disagree or strongly disagree that people who participate in equestrian activities understand and comply with best practices for biosecurity. Photo: Clix Photography
The horse industry also provided over 116,000 jobs — equivalent to over 71,000 full time jobs — which equals the number of jobs provided by Ontario’s oil and gas sector. The greatest number of jobs were in Ontario (36,182) and Alberta (33,639).
Overall, Canada’s horse industry provided over $8.69 billion to Canada’s Gross Domestic Product and $894 million in provincial and federal taxes in 2022. To put this in perspective, the equine sector contributed slightly less to Canada’s economy than the $11 billion cannabis sector.
People involved with horses in Canada aren’t just having fun — they’re actively contributing to the country’s economy.
Less Tangible Benefits
Canada’s horse industry provides social benefits, too. Almost all of the survey respondents (96 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that interacting with horses contributes to human health and well-being. Additionally, riding can help children and youth develop lifelong healthy habits. Plus, equine-assisted services can help people manage mental and physical disabilities.
It’s not just individuals that benefit from messing about with horses. Over half of survey respondents (52 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that the Canadian equine sector connects rural and urban areas. Equine farms can provide a buffer between urban and agricultural lands while farms can help increase urbanite awareness of farming activities. Equine facilities can also support groundwater recharge areas, soil fertility, surface water control, and wildlife habitat.
What about the horses? The report estimated there were 478,269 to 545,136 horses in Canada in 2021, which averages 509,099 horses across the country. That’s about half the estimated 963,500 horses in Canada in 2010 and the estimated 1,043,433 horses in Canada in 2006. The report did not speculate on the rationale for such a strong decline in Canada’s equine population. However, estimating the number of horses in Canada is tricky. Unlike other farm animals, there’s no overarching horse registry in the country. Therefore, the horse population was calculated by using 2021 census numbers for equines on census-defined farmland (183,733) and a 2.8 national horse population multiplier to reflect horses kept on non-farm properties.
In 2022, Alberta was clearly Canada’s horse capital with 37 percent of the country’s equines. Ontario (25 percent) and Saskatchewan (13 percent) had the next-largest herds.
Cost of farrier care in Canada ranges from an average of $2,200 for elite sport horses to $617 per year for breeding stock. Respondents from Quebec, Northern Ontario, the interior of British Columbia, and New Brunswick all expressed concern over lack of trained farriers, equine veterinarians, and coaches. Photo: Clix Photography
Of Canada’s approximately half-million horses, almost one-third (28 percent) are primarily used for recreation, one quarter (24.5 percent) are used for amateur sport, and 19 percent are working animals. The rest are used for breeding (14 percent), professional sport (8 percent), elite sport (4 percent) and racing (2.5 percent). That means over one-third of Canada’s horses (36 percent) are used for amateur, professional, or elite sports. Most horses (87 percent) are owned by individual participants while the rest are leased or jointly owned.
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However, horses aren’t cheap to buy, and purchase prices vary by province and use. It costs an average of $5,256 to buy a horse in Yukon Territory and over $27,000 in British Columbia (BC). The cost of recreational horses averages $14,417 across Canada, while sport horses average $21,201 for amateur competitors, $32,690 for professionals, and $56,840 for elite riders.
Horse owners won’t be surprised that keeping horses is expensive, too. It cost an average of $15,270 to keep one horse in Canada, in 2022. Ontario ($17,519) and BC ($17,303) were the most expensive provinces to keep horses while Newfoundland and Labrador ($6,074) was the cheapest. But horse-keeping costs also depended on horse use. For example, it cost an average of $6,706 annually to keep a working horse in Alberta, where the average cost of keeping an elite sport horse was $24,630 per year.
Breeding was identified as the primary activity for 14 percent of Canada’s herd. Only racing and breeding are recognized as farming activities by Canada Revenue Agency, with the majority of other activities including boarding, riding lessons, and training not considered to be farming activities for tax purposes. Photo: Mark J Barrett
Almost half (47 percent) of horses were boarded in 2022, and the cost of boarding across Canada averaged $818 per month. Ontario ($897) and BC ($872) were the most expensive provinces to board horses, with Prince Edward Island ($455) the least expensive.
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Annual veterinary care ranged from an average of $1,306 for working horses to $3,252 for elite sport horses in 2022. Farrier care cost an average of $617 per year for breeding stock and $2,200 annually for elite sport horses.
Those who completed the online survey were primarily women (89 percent), tended to have higher incomes than most Canadians, and were well educated (53 percent had a bachelor degree or more). Of those surveyed, 69 percent were recreational participants and 61 percent were amateur competitors. Participants aged 30 to 39 and 60 to 69 were over-represented. The report provided no data regarding the number of horse-owning individuals, households, or properties which housed horses in Canada. However, according to the report, over 155,000 acres of land in Canada are used for equine facilities, farms, and ranches.
The 649 coaches and trainers who responded to the survey stated they teach up to three different equestrian disciplines, with half (49 percent) teaching dressage, 44 percent teaching show jumping, and more than one-third (36 percent) teaching hunter lessons.
Survey respondents agreed that interacting with horses contributes to human health and well-being, and that horse farms help connect urban and rural areas.
Riders and coaches utilized approximately 1,884 commercial horse operations to pursue their passion in 2022. Half (51 percent) of those facilities offered riding lessons, and more than one-third (36 percent) provided training and coaching services. Other activities included onsite camps and equine assisted therapy.
Related: How to Afford to Ride Horses
Regardless of activity, horse owners and riders often travel with their horses. In 2022, almost three-quarters (73 percent) of horse owners had a horse trailer. Recreational participants travelled an average of over 5,000 kilometres in 2022 while elite sport participants from some provinces travelled over 30,000 kilometres. Equestrian participants spent over $662 million at equestrian events and competitions in 2022. Most of those costs (95 percent) went towards food and accommodation while attending events.
In 2022, there were 63 major horse events held across Canada. Of those, over half (33) were held in Ontario. They attracted 90 to more than 1,000 participants and 1,000 to 300,000 spectators. Each cost more than $376,000 to host. There were also an estimated 1,084 minor events and competitions (less than 1,000 spectators) held across Canada in 2022, each costing an average of $9,854 to host. These events averaged 37 participants who paid $131 in competitor fees. An average of 68 spectators attended each event. Of the competitors surveyed, most (88 percent) felt that there were many opportunities to compete and attend different types of events. However, they all agreed that competing was expensive and time consuming.
Challenges for the Industry
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected Canada’s horse industry and those affects continue to be felt. Due to cancelled shows and closed training facilities, riders’ competition skills stagnated. Participation by international clientele has yet to fully rebound. However, riding was one of the few activities which could be enjoyed during the pandemic so demand for lessons was, and continues to be, high. The price of horses also increased and has remained high.
Participating in the horse world takes significant time, money, and commitment. That’s a barrier to some and leads others to take a break from horses. Equity, inclusion, and diversity in the horse industry concerned some survey participants. Meanwhile, facilities struggle to find staff, while veterinary, farrier, and other support services can be lacking in rural areas. Event officials, such as judges and technical delegates, struggle to receive training and compensation.
Horse activities also need a lot of land, which can be expensive and difficult to access. Plus, they are not always recognized as “agricultural activities,” which can affect income taxes, property taxes, and access to government programs. Although infectious diseases pose a significant risk to horses, people in the industry don’t always understand or comply with biosecurity practices. Canada also doesn’t have a horse traceability program to assist during disease outbreaks. Additionally, climate change may increasingly affect horse health and safety along with feed and hay prices. Finally, horse welfare concerns both within and beyond Canada’s horse industry may be eroding public trust and social licence to operate.
Opportunities Going Forward
All those challenges provide opportunities, too, and the report recommends the following for EC:
- Conduct a regular “census” and economic impact study of the Canadian equine herd.
- Help improve inclusion, diversity, equity, and access to the equine sector.
- Collaborate with Provincial and Territorial Sport Organizations to support grassroots initiatives and youth participation.
- Continue working with multiple levels of government to ensure that horses and horse barns are considered part of the agricultural industry.
- Complete a follow-up study to better understand the competition landscape and identify opportunities to strengthen it.
- Continue to champion traceability of Canadian horses to support biosecurity and accurate population numbers.
“This report shows the horse community what they told us, and that we’re listening,” says McLearon. “A lot of what’s in the report are things [EC] has already identified to grow Canada’s equine sector: equine traceability, supporting grassroots initiatives, growing youth participation, encouraging inclusivity, and developing competition opportunities. We’re using the report to help identify gaps to be addressed and plan for the future. But we’re on the right path. Canada has a vibrant horse industry that’s sustainable and something you can build your life on.”
We invite you to answer our Tough Question: How can we improve inclusion, diversity, equity, and access to the Canadian equine sector?
For full access to all of the study materials, click here.
Main Photo: Mark J Barrett