What Horses Do Today – The Many Roles Horses Perform in Modern Society

What do horses do for a living? I love these great animals and they are my pets and companions today. For years we participated in amateur competitions and did some trail riding. One hundred years ago, these common domestic beasts were still used as means of transportation and their lives consisted of a lot of work. Rarely were they only pets.

I decided to look up current statistics to understand how modern horses spend their lives and how people relate to them now. Since I live in the United States my estimates are from the U.S. (I looked at data supplied by The Equestrian Channel, American Horse Publications, and the American Horse Council.)


Today there are more than 9.2 million horses in the U.S. About 3.9 million of them are used for recreational purposes. This includes those that belong to people who simply like having them, ride non-competitively, and trail ride for fun.


About 2.7 million are show horses. Showing includes any of the non-racing riding disciplines. Western riding takes a number of forms: barrel racing, reining, roping, cutting, and pleasure. English riding is done in dressage, hunters and jumpers, fox hunting, saddle seat, and eventing (combined training). There are also endurance riding and polo. We’ve been emphasizing riding, but driving horses continues to be an active form of horsemanship too.

Since few horses earn their way by winning money at shows, I’d say that these 6.6 million recreational and show animals could be considered to be non-earners of money. They earn their keep by the enjoyment they provide to their owners.


Just under a million (over 840,000) are race horses. Since racing is intended to make money for owners, I would say that these could be called money earners. They make money in the form of gambling proceeds, increase in their prices when sold, and enhanced value for breeding fees.

Traditional Work

Over 1.75 million other horses perform a variety of activities. They work on farms and ranches, in forests, and in cities. Farm and ranch work includes working cattle, ploughing, hauling, pulling equipment, carrying packs, and rodeo. City work includes pulling carts and carriages, and police work. They provide income to their owners by carrying out the work of the jobs that need to be done.

From these estimates, it looks like working breeds comprise almost 20% of horses in the U.S. at this time. I would have guessed a much smaller percentage still had day jobs in our modern motorized society. I was surprised to find out that true working types, in the traditional sense, continue to be needed in fair numbers.