There could be 300,000 fewer horses in Great Britain than five years ago, according to statistics from the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA).

The 2011 National Equestrian Survey – a five-yearly survey commissioned by BETA, which questioned more than 6,000 people – found an estimated 900,000 privately owned horses in Britain.

This is a drop of 300,000 horses from the 2005-2006 survey.

But industry experts say the decline may be a more accurate picture of the horseworld than in previous years, because data collection is now more robust.

A spokesman for BETA said more people had been surveyed on this occasion.

Lee Hackett from the British Horse Society said: “It is hard to explain this decrease. It would be nice to think that it is down to fewer horses being bred, but it certainly wouldn’t account for a drop of this magnitude.”

BETA said the figures are in line with the number of horses listed on the National Equine Database (NED), which has also recorded a drop.

Jan Rogers from NED confirmed that there are currently around 975,000 horses on the database.

“We’ve got more accurate numbers and removed any duplicate passports,” she said.

The survey also found the number of people who ride at least once a year (3.5m) has fallen by 19% since 2005-2006, with people blaming the cost.

This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (20 October, 2011)