With growing desire to become more environmentally conscious, what changes can horse owners make? Alex Robinson looks at some of the options
WHILE it’s perfectly healthy to use our horses as escapism from the real world, we cannot ignore our responsibilities as individuals to negate the impact of environmental changes. Forward-thinking individuals are working hard to ensure the equestrian industry doesn’t get left behind when it comes to becoming more sustainable. And the good news is that each of us can do our bit by making tweaks to shopping, horse care and disposal habits.
New Forest commoner Lyndsey Stride says that while the agricultural sector has been encouraged to farm in a more environmentally friendly way for some time, the message is yet to stick with the equestrian industry. She believes that recreational horse owners could learn – and benefit – from the way semi-feral ponies live in their homelands.
“Native ponies on moors, forests and fells are living in a natural way and contribute to an extraordinarily biodiverse landscape,” explains Lyndsey. “Looking at pasture management, there is a lot of talk in farming about carbon storage in grassland. Most recreational horses are kept on former agricultural fields, and as horse owners generally keep grass very short, the grass is placed under a lot of stress.
“Long grass is better at drawing up water and trace elements, and it puts more effort into growing its roots, which is good for the soil and carbon storage.
“We should strive for herb-rich pastures which aren’t being constantly grazed; the plants get more time to recover and therefore there is a much larger variety of grass species.
“Rotating paddocks – every month or so if you can – lets the grass rest. It will also benefit your horses as they’ll be eating a more varied and balanced diet. So many horses these days have hind gut problems or allergies, whereas ponies in the forest rarely need the vet out.
“As rotation helps with the issue of ground compaction, it helps prevent or deal with existing cases of mud and poaching, too. If you can find a four-foot strip around your field, fence this off, let it grow during spring and see what comes of it. It can only do the soil and grass good.
“If space permits, ‘paddock paradise’ – [the concept of] an outdoor environment which mimics natural wild habitats – is another option. [This way of keeping horses] makes the ponies walk a long way, usually over obstacles such as logs, to get food.”
When it comes to fencing, Lyndsey says that while the initial cost outlay of planting a hedge with a future aspiration of laying it might be greater, the long-term benefits are plenty.
“Post and rail usually doesn’t last forever,” Lyndsey adds. “Safety wise, there are no wires or broken rails in hedgerows. It might take up to 15 years to finish, but in the long run they are a source of shelter, food and are a habitat for wildlife. Plus, a good hedge promotes trickle feeding and encourages horses to eat from different heights.
“We’re in the middle of a climate and nature emergency and everyone has a part to play, though it’s hard to keep up to speed with the change of expectations; it’s fast-changing knowledge. If you own a field you are the guardian of that land and you have a duty to pass it on in the best possible condition.”
AS many products used in the equestrian industry – feed bags, packaging, bedding and wrappers – are disposed of after use, manufacturers are under increasing pressure to make their production processes more energy efficient.
“The biggest challenge we face is the manufacturers of packaging changing their products to include recycled content,” says NAF’s Isla Boxall-Loomes, who explains that currently the brand’s tubs are made from 50% recycled plastic and shampoo bottles from 30% recycled content.
“We need to provide the same quality of product in recycled packaging; there is a concern about keeping products fresh and whether the packaging is able to withstand feed room life and transportation.
“As feed safety is a priority, all of our products are sold in tamper evident plastic pots. Therefore, we offer products in a variety of sizes so you could save on packaging waste by purchasing larger ones. All of our plastic tubs, pots and jerry cans can be recycled and made back into packaging, too. Manufacturing has to promote the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ message.”
Hack Up Bespoke hit the headlines in 2019 when they introduced their new biodegradable packaging. Their supplements are all sold in tin-plated paper packaging.
“It’s not been without challenges,” says Hack Up’s Jayne Gingell, who also notes that the brand decants liquids into paper packaging, too. “Any manufacturing company can become more sustainable, but it’s going to have a negative impact on profit. It would be easier for us to put all the ingredients in a plastic pot, instead of funneling them into pieces of paper, but it’s worth it; tin plate biodegrades in 50 years, whereas plastic takes over 200 years. Paper takes weeks to decompose.
“We are considered a specialised supplement company in the horseworld and provide hand-made, bespoke products not made on a mass scale, which are better for the environment with limited product miles and no need for preservatives. We cater for the discerning customer who is ready to take on the responsibility of their own waste.”
Wood pellet bedding has grown in popularity, mainly due to its minimal wastage and ease of use. But making a switch could also be better for the planet.
“Wood pellet bedding has risen out of nowhere in the past 14 years, from making up 0% to 20% of the bedding market,” says Fiona Hill from Sorbeo Horse Bedding. “As well as producing little waste, once on the muck heap, pellets decompose fast; they’re made from a treated wood so they’re semi-decomposed anyway.”
Fiona says that if you’re looking to source wood pellets, ensure that you know exactly where they’ve come from.
“Some local suppliers might sell imported pellets that are made from compressed sawdust with an additive to stick it together, and some contain harmful chemicals and dusts, such as MDF [medium-density fibreboard]. Some imports might have glue added to them, too. We use lignin glue which is natural.”
SAFETY product manufacturers are possibly dealt the toughest hand.
“Helmets, and most safety products, are particularly hard to recycle as they’re designed to withstand high-impact accidents, last for up to five years and be incredibly durable,” says Charles Owen’s marketing director Alex Burek.
“Hats are made of several layers and include plastics, glues and polystyrenes which are essential for safety. We therefore have a responsibility to ensure that the manufacturing process offsets the carbon footprint and is as sustainable as possible.
“When making the plastic shells, if one isn’t perfect we will now grind it up and make a new one instead of discarding it. The helmets themselves go into a drawstring bag made from recycled plastic bottles and these are then put into a recyclable cardboard box. We harvest rainwater from the roof to make our hat liners, and the heat that’s generated by this machine is used to heat the factory.”
When your hat has come to the end of its life, Alex says that an old helmet can double up as a plant pot.
“The ventilation makes it ideal for this job,” adds Alex. “And the chin strap means you can hang it anywhere.”
8 sustainable ideas for horse owners
● Car share to the yard: if you’re heading in the same direction as a fellow livery yard member, take it in turns to drive each other (subject to Covid restrictions). Or perhaps split the work so each of you does one end of the day.
● Buy second hand: check out your local equestrian social media page or group to pick up good quality second-hand items that are fit for reuse.
● Buy local: support your nearest
tack shop and feed merchants as well as local producers in order to reduce travel and delivery.
● Invest in eco products: many brands are now creating goods from alternative materials. For example, Poly Jumps’ Eco Jumps range is made from bio-resin, which contains polyethylene derived from plant sources.
● Help good causes: the Horse Trust will take your old rugs, saddles, bits and bridles for their tack sales. The RSPCA takes headcollars, lead ropes and turnout rugs that are in “reasonable and usable condition”. Or give your bits a second life by donating them to the Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust.
● Save water: consider installing automatic drinkers, or simply repairing leaky taps around the yard.
● Bulk buy: look for companies offering bulk solutions, such as Chestnut Horse Feeds which provides a bulk-bin feeding system. The food is delivered to buyers in a reusable, waterproof bin, which reduces waste. Buy lotions, cleaners and products in larger quantities and decant into old plastic bottles as needed.
Recycling the wardrobe
● WHEN it comes to your horse’s wardrobe, big-name brands are leading the way with their selection of sustainable gear.
Each rug from Weatherbeeta’s Green-Tec range saves over 340 plastic bottles from going into a landfill or the ocean, and the fabric uses 50% less energy to produce than a traditional turnout rug. Both the outer fabric and lining are made from recycled bottles. Plus, it is packaged in recyclable packaging that is made from post consumer recyclable (PCR) plastic.
Derby House’s eco-friendly Evolution rug (pictured) – which is also free of poly-fluorinated chemicals (PFCs) – is made from the equivalent of 110 recycled plastic bottles. It’s claimed to be the most sustainable rug in the world.
“Using recycled plastics is exactly the kind of lever we need to be pulling when attempting to make recycling a viable solution,” said a Derby House spokesman.
● ASIDE from buying second-hand clothing, opting for products made from recycled materials is the next best thing.
The most recent addition to DVR Equestrian’s collection is the Penny pull-on winter jodhpurs, the first product from the brand to be made from Repreve (a fabric made from recycled bottles). As well as being DVR’s first winter weight jodhpurs, they are made from 84% Repreve and 16% Spandex.
Saracen Horse Feeds, which uses only renewable energy sources at its site, has recently released branded uniforms made from recycled plastic. Each branded soft-shell jacket for staff and sponsored riders will be produced from 20 plastic cups, aptly recycled from horse racing events.
What efforts are you making at your yard to go green? Write in to H&H at firstname.lastname@example.org
This feature can also be read in this week’s Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 29 April
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