Polk County equine census finds many more horses than state estimate

Published 10:27 am Friday, October 16, 2009

A follow-up census by Polk County&squo;s Economic Development Commission, conducted in August and September, puts the figure at 6,157. To reach this number, officials contacted all the working and retired large animal veterinarians in the county, plus two out of the county who treat Polk equines, and requested figures for all county equine treated in 2008. The number was then adjusted by -15 percent for overlap and +10 percent for equines that were not treated by a vet. The resulting 6,157 figure establishes Polk County as a leading area of equine activity, county officials say.

The new count would put Polk County in the number 16 spot in the state survey&39;s roster of equines by county. The state&39;s survey puts Polk in the number 29 spot. With Polk&39;s new count factored in, the top counties remain in urban areas with large population centers and with larger land areas. Union County, outside of the largest metropolitan area in the state, Charlotte, has the most horses, with the state&squo;s estimate at 11,000. Polk County remains on top as far as horses per capita.

The new count is deemed important because it gives Polk County more accurate figures to use in policy making such as agricultural development, land use and emergency preparedness. The county will submit the new numbers to the state study for correction.

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Polk County equine and economic development members recently attended a N.C. Horse Council Western Carolina roll-out of the 2009 Equine Study Report at the Western N.C. Agriculture Center in Fletcher to dispute Polk&squo;s equine numbers.

Polk County EDC member Libbie Johnson, who is editor of &dquo;This Week in Tryon Horse Country,&dquo; says she has had several survey professionals look at the study and they have unanimously said it is flawed. As evidence, they cite the study&squo;s finding that Clydesdales are the state&squo;s primary breed used for racing.

Johnson says the state blamed errors in the study on the speed with which the report was written.

&dquo;In my opinion only, a half million dollar study, funded by taxpayers, should not have the luxury of blaming erroneous findings on &squo;we wrote the report in a hurry,&squo;&dquo; Johnson says. &dquo;Although I am very concerned about the inaccuracies in the equine numbers, I am even more concerned with the recommendations put forth, such as a return to pari-mutuel betting and racing and the construction of a &39;mega&39; Kentucky Horse Park-style facility for the state.&dquo;

Johnson also says the inaccuracies may affect funding for Polk County concerning equine activity. Other counties have funding earmarked from the state for proposed horse parks, but Polk has received nothing.

&dquo;And why should we?&dquo; Johnson says. &dquo;We&squo;re number 29 according to the state study.&dquo;

The state&squo;s study was done with sampling as opposed to a census, Johnson says. A sampling number is never going to be accurate, but it should have been closer to the actual number than it was, she says.

Polk County Economic Development and The Foothills Economic Partnership are committed to addressing the bad data as it pertains to Polk County.&bsp; Having bad information go into a permanent report hurts our county&squo;s primary industry and future opportunities for funding, according to Johnson.