As Kermit the frog once lamented, it’s not easy being green. But it’s really not that hard, either.
Taken on balance, equestrian facilities are not considered by experts to be particularly “bad” for the environment. Although livestock is responsible for 37% of all methane gas emissions in the U.S., cows make up the vast majority (86.2%) of this total. That’s because cow stomachs have four compartments that assist in digestion, as opposed to horses and other non-ruminant herbivores, which only have one, therefore producing far less methane.
But riding stables do put a strain in the environment in other ways. Improper manure management can create runoff, which leaches nitrogen into waterways. Riding arenas and farm landscaping can require huge amounts of water to maintain. And packaging from heavily-relied upon feed and bedding supplies (think: bagged shavings, feed bags, and hay bales) can produce large amounts of waste.
Oh, and let’s not even start on the greenhouse gas emissions caused by a single flight across the Atlantic to ferry-over just one of our ridiculously priced warmblood imports.
So what can we do as horse and barn owners to be a little more sustainable in our everyday lives? In a word, plenty!
Whether you choose to go all-in or simply seek to reduce your carbon footprint inch by inch, doing something is the always the right answer. To that end, here are 20-plus ideas, big and small, that you can use as a rider and/or barn owner to make the sport a little more green.
The BIG ideas: Conservatively, a 10-stall horse barn will use about 2,100 bags of wood shavings a year. Tree carnage aside, if those bags happen to be made of plastic, that’s a lot of waste going to landfills every year.
The fix? Consider creating a designated storage area and switching your stable over to bulk shavings delivery, which can help cut down on packaging waste. Or try a recycled cardboard bedding like Airlite, which is not only easier on the planet, but also better for your horse’s lungs.
Another way to reuse one of your horse barn’s most plentiful by-products? A manure composting program, of course! (And no, sorry, a manure ‘pile’ doesn’t equal a composting program.)
Several companies offer solutions for large-scale farms, or for smaller operations, you can use recycled shipping pallets to create this efficient, three-bin composting system, recommended by the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The best news: compost sales can provide a lucrative secondary income stream for your farm, with the current average price of 1 cubic yard of compost costing $25-$35.
Small ideas: Take a more thoughtful approach to recycling in your own barn. Instead of trashing broken gates, used horse shoes, baling twine, or leftover construction materials, call your town’s transfer station to see what they are currently accepting, and ask your local feed store if they’ll take back waste from commonly purchased items such as feed bags and baling twine.
Another thought: many horse show venues still don’t offer separate recycling bins for the many bottles and cans exhibitors crush throughout a horse show week. In addition to lobbying show management for a change, pack a reusable storage bag to sort bottles and cans for your own barn aisle and beyond. Return the collectibles for a few extra dollars toward your next horse show lunch.
The BIG Ideas: If you have the luxury of building your barn from scratch—or undergoing a major renovation—a few design tweaks can help to minimize your carbon footprint in a big way. A properly orientated barn can make a huge difference in airflow physics and monthly electric bills, improving natural ventilation in your stable without the need for fans, and helping to take advantage of daylighting. You can also equip your barn and indoor arena with skylights to take further advantage of natural light.
For both new builds and existing barns, consider installing low-power heating systems and LED lighting wherever possible. You can also install solar panels to help offset energy use. Last up: consider replacing your old tractors and farm utility vehicles with electric models when it’s time to upgrade.
Small ideas: No matter how meticulous you are about minimizing your day-to-day carbon footprint, airfare contributes as much as 3% of global carbon dioxide production—meaning a single flight down south or west for winter circuits, or importing just one horse across the Atlantic, can quickly put your personal carbon gains back down in the red.
One solution? For yourself, there’s always the option of paying a little extra through your airline’s carbon offset program. And, as of this month, it’s a strategy you also employ for your horse’s flight. The Dutta Corporation launched an offset program for equine travel’s greenhouse gas emissions that, for an additional $99 charge per horse flight, supports climate projects such as From Waste to Fuel: Improving Agriculture and Livelihoods in Mexico, as well as USEF’s High Performance program.
The BIG Ideas: Historically, equestrian pursuits and leather products have gone together like peanut butter and jelly. Yet for those eco-conscious riders that can’t get past the cow hide, Henri de Rivel’s ‘X’ line offers all-purpose, dressage, and pony saddles that are animal by-product-free for less than $500. Pair it with Kavalkade’s ‘Cortica’ bridle ($260), which is made using sustainable cork, not leather.
Small ideas: If you’re not ready to make the jump into vegan tack, there are plenty of ways to use your dollars to support climate-aware brands.
Equestrian Stockholm, for example, uses recycled polyester fibers and even recycled coffee grounds in the production of their riding shirts, jackets, and breeches; they also ship their products internationally by sea to cut down on their footprint. Ariat also uses recycled materials in their products, with second-hand and repair programs for leather boots to help to extend lifespans and reduce waste, and a recycling program for their denim jeans. Finally, Horseware Ireland has partnered with One Tree Planted to plant a sapling for every AmEco 12 Plus turnout they sell (from $270).
The BIG Ideas: Depending on your geographical location and climate, riding arenas can require huge amounts of water to maintain; from just under 90 gallons a day for a 150’ x 75’ indoor arena with an average temperature of 45 degrees, to as much as 900 gallons per day in a 100’ x 200’ outdoor arena in full sun (with a breeze), and an average temperature of 80 degrees. That’s more than 328,000 gallons of water every year, at a time when many places in the world are experiencing increased drought.
If your budget allows, outfitting your arena with high-quality footing that retains water while resisting evaporation is a first step. For maximum water savings, a subsurface (underground), base-watering system, like the Arion Ebb-and-Flow Arena, allows barn owners to fine-tune their footing surface while eliminating the excess water typically lost to runoff and/or evaporation.
Small ideas: When it comes to saving water, every little bit helps. Consider installing a gutter system with downspouts to divert rainwater into stock watering tanks instead of the ground. On a 30’ x 30’ building, for example, 1 inch of rainfall can result in 558 gallons of captured H2O—enough to fully saturate most rings. Rain barrels can also be used for collection—saving as much as 1,300 gallons a year from one 55-gallon barrel—which can be used for barn landscaping, dunking tails, or scrubbing buckets.
Finally, be smart about when you water your ring. Evening hours and times when the wind is at a minimum will help to minimize evaporation and ensure your water goes further.