Connecting environmental health, horse health, and property aesthetics
At the heart of today’s sustainability movement is the conviction that what is good for the environment is good for us too. For the equestrian community, we can extend this to include our horses as well. These principles increasingly guide horse-facility planning, design, and management—and for good reason. Whether motivated by protecting the environment, improving horse health, or enhancing overall farm aesthetics, the solutions to better design and management are often the same.
Collectively, farm owners are stewards of a vast amount of land, and with this comes the need to responsibly manage and conserve our equestrian landscapes. In North Carolina, for example, an estimated 53,000 equine-owning house-holds comprise over two million acres of land. These numbers reflect only a fraction of the entire U.S. equestrian community.
Horsekeeping practices present unique environmental and land stew-ardship challenges. By confining horses to smaller acreages of land than they would naturally travel in the wild, we put certain pressures on our land that we must, to the best of our ability, mitigate. Principle among these are the protection of soil and water resources on and adja-cent to horse properties.
Overstocked and overgrazed pastures, for example, lead to a variety of environmental problems including soil erosion, compaction, and overall loss of soil fertility. Erosion of valuable topsoil from pastures contributes to pollution of nearby streams and rivers. Not only does the soil itself directly impact water quality, but it carries with it nutrients that, when they exceed safe levels, can cause toxic algal blooms and the loss of oxygen in streams, rivers, and lakes—killing fish and other aquatic life. Environmental scientists contend that soil erosion is not just a problem of the past, famously resulting in the dust bowl of the 1930s, but continues to be one of the most critical environmental concerns of today.
Improper manure management also contributes to environmental pollution. Often manure is gathered and accumulated in the “pile out back.” When this pile is located near creeks, rivers, or poorly-vegetated drainage swales, it can leach nutrient pollution into surface waters.
Don’t think your farm’s small manure pile can have much of an impact? When it comes to environmental stewardship, it is important to think in context of the cumulative impacts of all horse proper-ties. For example, the approximately 82 million tons of manure produced from horses in the U.S. each year is enough to fill the Empire State Building 72times over. It also contains 531,000 tons (or 1.06 trillion pounds) of nitrogen and phosphorous that, if not properly managed, can contribute to nutrient pollution of our lakes and rivers. It is hard to argue against the importance of proper manure storage and management in the context of these numbers.
Read more here: Sustainable Design