‘It’s our responsibility’: how equestrian professionals are striving to be more environmentally sustainable *H&H Plus*

  • With the challenge of climate change, what part are equestrian professionals playing to be more sustainable in their roles? Stephanie Bateman investigates

    REDUCING the impact we have on our planet is a major global focus. While big equestrian brands and companies are playing their part to be more sustainable, what about individuals and smaller set-ups working in the industry?

    Zoe Kiff set up Honest Riders Clothing in 2017 when looking for more sustainable riding kit for herself and care products for her horses.

    “I realised that the options in the equestrian market were really limited, so decided to set up a brand whose sole focus was on providing more eco-friendly options,” says Zoe. “We consider our environmental impact at every step of the product journey.”

    Every product Zoe sells has to be made using the most sustainable fabric they can source, either organic cotton or recycled polyester. It has to be made by a manufacturer whose workers are treated and paid fairly, and which considers the carbon output of its factory, and uses material shipped to it plastic-free. And the clothing must be of high quality, so that customers get years of wear out of it.

    With regards to the horsecare products, Zoe ensures they are cruelty-free, as natural as possible to avoid toxins ending up in waterways, free from sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), parabens, petroleum and paraffin, and wrapped in recyclable packaging.

    “Last year we launched a horse shampoo bar which is made from natural ingredients and comes in compostable packaging,” says Zoe. “It’s no longer enough for a brand to label itself or its products ‘sustainable’ if they haven’t considered every element. We believe that the equestrian market is behind the times when it comes to considering its environmental impact. Climate change is such a huge issue that we believe it’s our responsibility as customers and as brands to act now.”

    FOR some, sustainability isn’t a new concept. Postal worm egg count company Westgate Labs has been championing sustainable horse health for 22 years and, during lockdown, invested in a new range of environmentally friendly packaging.

    “The innovative design of our lab testing kits transforms the biodegradable product pouches into a return envelope to send the animal samples back to the laboratory for testing,” explains Claire Shand, director of marketing at Westgate Labs. “This way, we’re responsible for the full journey of the product as everything can be returned to source.”

    Some 12 months on from the launch, thousands of pouches have been returned through the post to be composted on the family farm where the lab is based.

    “The intention is for the material to be used for new tree-planting on a 73-acre reserve that we’re establishing on reclaimed open-cast land,” says Claire. “Over the past couple of years, we’ve reduced the amount of rubbish going to landfill by more than 75%. What we can’t compost we recycle wherever possible. It’s all the little things like ensuring every additional sticker on a compostable envelope is printed on the right grade of material and with vegetable ink so that no nasties leach into the soil. The environment is really important to us here at Westgate, so we continue to take every step we can to protect it.”

    CHANGES are happening in places of education too, as equine lecturer at Bridgend College Sue Hurford says.

    “Sustainability has become something of a buzz word in the education sector, and at Bridgend College we’ve incorporated sustainability into the strategic plan for the business, including plans to be paperless by 2025,” she says. “Blended learning timetables will be utilised for all learners with a combination of online and face-to-face teaching. This will not only allow for further progression toward being paperless, but will also allow for massive reductions in our carbon footprint with fewer cars, less travel and a reduction in energy usage. We will also soon have electric charge points at the college.”

    Sustainability has also become a key word in Estyn (Wales’ version of Ofsted) inspections, with lecturers encouraged to teach and educate learners on sustainability.

    “The younger generation are more aware of sustainability and more skilled and willing to use technology,” says Sue. “The biggest challenge is training staff in new ways of working, especially in ICT [information and communications technology].”

    Extra training and ICT equipment carries a cost, but the savings have been almost £20k in printing alone in a three-month period.

    “We also manage our land sustainably with areas set aside for natural biodiverse habitats,” adds Sue. “We encourage recycling in all areas. In the equine sector, the organic waste is used to fertilise the land.”

    SHOW venues are also stepping up to the sustainability plate.

    Tina Ure is in charge of Ely Eventing Centre, home to Little Downham Horse Trials, and a busy base for coaching days and clinics.

    “Making the business more sustainable means looking at investments in infrastructure that will help make savings in the future, as well as looking at how we can operate in a greener and more sustainable way,” says Tina. “To do this, we’ve looked to digital developments, renewable energy and biodegradable bedding.”

    Going digital future-proofs certain systems and reduces the amount of paper used.

    “For example, we have run an online booking system for several years and this now takes care of stable bookings, clinics and coaching and cross-country schooling, saving time and effort,” says Tina. “The Event Hub launched in 2020 has enabled us to host course maps, event programmes, essential information and a lot of signage digitally. We also developed a fence-judging app.”

    The bulk of the site also runs on solar power for a large part of the year, which is one reason why there isn’t always enough power for electric hook-up at shows.

    “We use pellets or other bedding types, such as hemp, which is quicker to break down,” adds Tina. “We supply travel mugs and flasks to our volunteers so that they can re-use them and use biodegradable lunch boxes to deliver jacket potatoes to the cross-country jump judges, rather than plastic-wrapped sandwiches. The biggest challenge has been changing people’s habits, but the more people visit and experience the changes, the more they embrace them.”

    Society of Master Saddlers (SMS) qualified saddle fitter Poppy Webber recently launched PeeWee Leather Care, a brand of leather care with sustainability at the forefront. Poppy has been working in the saddlery world for 15 years, and knows which products are best suited to leather.

    Poppy’s products are eco-friendly, natural and cruelty-free.

    “All the ingredients are 100% natural and all of our packaging is plastic-free and biodegradable,” explains Poppy. “We even make the sponges out of wood pulp and the disposable gloves for the leather dye are made out of sugar cane.”

    Science Supplements is another company committed to reducing plastic consumption. The brand already uses 100% post-consumer recycled plastics for their shampoo and spray range, and is transitioning to recyclable pouches for the majority of their products, in what Group CEO David Mitson describes as “another leap forward in reducing the impact of single-use plastic on our environment”.

    Some professions require hours of travel, which isn’t great for reducing carbon footprints, but farrier Jack Climo overcomes this by van sharing with another farrier.

    “We have clients at the same yards, so we drive together on certain days to reduce carbon emissions,” says Jack. “On days when I work alone, I organise my diary to see clients in the same area, rather than driving around.”

    Jack also recycles old shoes and nails, and the cardboard boxes the shoes come in.

    “When we’ve finished with our gas bottles that we use in the forge, they get sent back to the suppliers and are replaced with a full one – the empty ones are filled and reused,” says Jack. “Some suppliers pack the shoes in plastic bags as well as cardboard boxes to prevent the shoes rusting, but I don’t believe it’s necessary and removing the plastic would make it more environmentally friendly.”

    “Small changes add up”

    SHOWJUMPER Camilla Bingham is on a sustainability mission and has various strategies to reduce her carbon footprint.

    “Before using a company or brand, I check out their sustainability policies and opt for those which are more eco-friendly,” says Camilla. “The bedding company I use recycle the pallets they deliver the bedding on. They also teach their drivers to drive more efficiently to reduce their carbon footprint.”

    When it comes to tack and equipment, Camilla’s philosophy is that if you don’t need something, don’t buy it.

    “Sell unused items and buy second-hand. Also, get things fixed instead of replacing them,” she says. “I also prefer to save up and buy better-quality items rather than cheap items that will need replacing sooner. If you look after your things, they will last longer.”

    She also works on sustainability at shows.

    “I always take my own food as it’s healthier and means I use my own cutlery and cups,” she says. “I also leave reviews for venues on how they could be more sustainable. If we all take small steps, it will add up to a big difference.”

    This feature can also be read in this week’s Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 29 April

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