Most horse-owners have happy memories of trotting down a tree-shaded lane, riding along a stream of clear water, or cantering across an open field. Nature and horses just go together, and the connections between caring about horses and caring about the environment seem obvious.
In fact, the connections may be even stronger than you might think. “Taking steps to protect the environment can improve your horse’s health as well,” says University of Guelph researcher Bronwynne Wilton. “More and more horse people are interested in ‘going green,’ saving money on fuel and energy, and protecting the natural environment.”
For example, Wilton says, “If you have a pond or wetland or stream on your farm, you can improve the water quality, not just for your property but for the lands downstream, by planting a buffer strip of native vegetation along the shore. Buffer strips help to filter run-off from manure piles and fields which promote improved water quality.”
This fairly simple step also reduces the risks of flooding during rainy weather.
Whether or not you have a pond or stream on your property, Susan Raymond, Communications and Program Officer at Equine Guelph, says every horse owner should be aware of the potential environmental impact of manure. “An average horse can produce nine tons of manure a year,” says Raymond. “Without a plan, that can be pretty intimidating. When it’s not properly managed, manure can be an eyesore, a health risk and a cause of environmental damage. With good management, it can be used to enrich the soil and actually improve the environment.”
Manure needs to be stored away from water sources, Raymond says, and needs to have the right amount of oxygen and moisture to promote composting so that it can be used as fertilizer. Having the manure pile on a concrete pad, with a cover to protect it from rain, and PVC pipes inserted to allow oxygen to get to the middle could work on some farms. A system of three-sided boxes built with wood slats allows the farm owner to store manure and manage it in sections as it breaks down and turns into lovely garden soil. Each time the manure is turned; it adds oxygen and keeps the composting process going.
These are just two examples of the kinds of topics Raymond and Wilton will cover in their new online course called Stewardship of the Equine Environment: Reducing Your Environmental Hoofprint, offered through Equine Guelph and Office of Open Learning, University of Guelph. The course will also help horse owners understand some of the new legislation which may apply to them and give the students tools to identify areas where they can improve their environmental management. “The horse industry grew by almost 17% between 2001 and 2006,” says Raymond, “and we now have more than 380,000 horses in Ontario. There’s the potential for a significant environmental impact – either positive or negative. We find horse owners generally care about the land, and want to protect it.”
The course is part of Equine Guelph’s diploma program, but can be taken on its own, Raymond adds.