Ah, horses. So beautiful, out in their fields, eating the grass, living in harmony with nature.
The horse life is horrible to the environment. Horses themselves are destructive - they beat the heck out of land, with their big, heavy bodies and big, heavy feet. They eat grass all the way down to the root, unlike cows, which just nip off the top of the blade. They eat a MASSIVE amount of food, and both commercial hay and grain production require major consumption of fossil fuels to get from the field to your horse's hindgut. Horse manure makes for crappy fertilizer, and requires major composting before it becomes useful. And then we load them up into diesel trucks and move them around all the time.
Horses and horse people are just not good stewards of the environment.
But there are things that we've done around my farm, and things the companies we work with have done, to at least attempt to reduce our carbon footprint. Here are a few:
- We thought about water consumption a lot when we bought and started building on our farm. The barn and outdoor arenas were in place when we moved in, but we wanted to expand the outdoor, build the indoor and install the now-25 paddocks with care, not only because it's the environmentally right thing to do, but also because it's expensive to drop a second well. We chose dust-free footing for the indoor for lots of reasons, but one of them was the water part - I don't have to run my well pump and waste ground water for the indoor surface.
Even cooler, though, is what we did outside the indoor. The building that houses my indoor ring is massive, 90x226 feet. One inch of rain off the roof of such a building yields 12,600 gallons of water (hello!). Rather than let all that useful water disappear into the ground, we capture it; all the gutters off the building drain into an underground "tank" (it's actually a big 100 percent recycled plastic "bag," framed up by 100% recycled plastic egg crate-like things to give it shape), which feeds directly to the sprinkler system around our outdoor arena. One inch of rain can power the sprinklers for two weeks (and we run the HELL out of our sprinklers). And it's also got a dry hydrant, in case of disaster. Super, super cool.
See the system in action (turn your sound on):
- We compost all the horses' waste and use it as fertilizer on our back 40 acres. We built big concrete bins into which we dump manure and used bedding, and then it "cooks" for a few months until it is ready to spread. To expedite that process (and, conveniently, to reduce the amount I spend every month on bedding!), we installed StableComfort mats in the stalls, which are squishy, so we only use about 1/5 of the bedding we used to.
- We're BIG recyclers. I'm actually a bit of a Nazi about it, going through the trash cans and pulling out cans and bottles. (We're also a little bananas about single-use water bottles. JUST DON'T DO IT, PEOPLE.)
But we're also big fans of companies that make an effort to reduce, reuse and recycle. My friends at Pennfield recently made their bags 100 percent recyclable, so we can chuck all those plastic bags straight into the bin. SmartPak, too, uses recyclable materials in their SmartPaks and in their shipping of stuff to us, plus they give great incentives to ship all our and our clients' orders together, which goes a LONG way - fewer boxes, fewer deliveries, less diesel fuel, etc. And our local feed and tack shop, Tri County Feeds, has stopped using bags and instead reuses cardboard boxes to tuck your purchases into.
And we just generally try to be smart. There's no choice but to drive a big dually truck to pull our giant horse trailers, but around town, I drive a petite Honda. We have a high efficiency washing machine in the barn and use our clothesline often instead of the dryer. We keep one epic shopping list in the barn, and try to take care of it in one swoop, instead of making multiple trips to town. And we take good care of our land, keeping it green and tree-covered, to keep us breathing easy for years to come.