Written by: Shelley GooShedwin

Get 10 tips for eco-friendly horse keeping.

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Kyla Jansen photo

Making an effort to be a greener horse owner through eco-friendly management and care practices is beneficial to your horse’s health, the environment and your wallet. Try out some of these suggestions:

  1. Manage Manure While composting and spreading manure as fertilizer for pastures and gardens is a viable option for some, other farm owners opt to sell it or have it shipped out. The Horse Manure Composting Program, run by Langley Environmental Partners Society, for example, has developed an interesting online model which links farmers with gardeners in BC and Alberta, as well as some areas in the US. While this program is operated on a large scale, establishment of local versions is certainly possible.

Those who decide to manage manure on-site themselves should take care to prevent contamination of ground water by locating piles away from wells or other water sources. Ideally, the piles should be covered and contained to keep pollutants from leaching out.

  1. Buy Green When determining whether a product or piece of equipment is truly “green” before purchase, horse owners should consider not only what it is made from, but how. Is any part of the manufacturing process – methods, machinery, byproducts and waste, for example – harmful to the environment? What about the packaging? Can it be recycled or reused? Also consider how and where the materials used in the production were acquired. Was it done in an environmentally friendly way?
  2. Natural Remedies Make homemade remedies when possible. There are numerous recipes for homemade insect repellents and hoof dressings, as well as salves for wounds and burns, warts and scar tissue, for example. Not only do some people prefer to use natural products, they can be more economical and they are safer to dispose of than chemical products. Additionally, since most ingredients can be found around the house, purchase and disposal of additional packaging can be avoided.
  3. Leave No Trace When trail riding or camping with your horse, practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead and prepare; travel and camp on durable surfaces; dispose of waste properly, leave what you find; minimize campfire impacts; respect wildlife; and be considerate of others. These outdoor ethics guidelines were designed to help minimize the impact we have on natural spaces and preserve our resources (see www.leavenotrace.ca for more information).

Horse people can contribute to this movement by feeding certified weed seed free hay, if possible, to prevent the spread of noxious weeds; watering from a bucket rather than allowing horses to enter rivers and streams, in order to preserve stream beds and prevent contamination; and by spreading manure to encourage faster decomposition. Campers should know how to prepare a highline area for their horses to spend the night, making sure that they are tied outside the drip line of the tree (the area directly below the outer reaches of the tree canopy) so as not to damage the roots. They should also use tree protector straps to protect the bark when stringing the line, and be sure to “naturalize” the area upon departure, including filling in any pawed up or worn ground.

  1. Install a Frost-Free Nose Pump A frost-free nose pump is used to deliver water to livestock totally under their own steam; no electricity is required. The device consists of a small trough with a lever that when pushed by the animal’s nose, pumps water into it. The trough is set on a culvert (about a 24-inch diameter metal pipe) that runs vertically into the ground and taps into the ground water supply below the frost line – at a depth of at least 20 feet in Canada.

Use of a frost-free nose pump has an added benefit of protecting water sources from becoming contaminated by keeping animals out of them and preventing backwash.

Originally designed for cattle, by an Alberta farmer, one frost-free nose pump can support a herd of 100 cattle, so depending on its placement/facility design one device should be enough for most horse farms.

  1. Educate Yourself Equine Guelph offers an online course, part of their Equine Studies diploma, called Stewardship of the Equine Environment, which teaches students how to manage their natural environment and facilities in order to optimize the health of their horses.

The course introduces concepts related to the natural ecosystem, ecosystem services and beneficial management practices. The relationship between the health and well-being of the environment and that of their horses is explored, as well as the role of the equine industry in meeting broader societal goals of environmental citizenship.

A wide range of topics such as wildlife habitat and management, manure management, source water protection policies and “green” building concepts are also examined from an equine industry perspective.

  1. Conserve Water There are numerous ways to conserve water on the farm. Downspouts can be directed into barrels or a cistern, and used for irrigation during dry periods. Leftover water from horses’ buckets can be used to water the garden. Nozzles can be used on hoses for various chores, including baths. Better yet, use a bucket and sponge to bathe horses or clean equipment to prevent wastage.
  2. Multi-species Grazing Multi-species grazing, also known as cross- or mixed-grazing, is a smart, sustainable pasture management practice. It promotes healthy, even growth and helps control weeds.

Horses can be grazed with other species simultaneously, or using a rotational method, in which the horses enjoy the choice pasture, followed by other livestock who clean up the less desirable plants. Selective grazers, horses zero in on the youngest and most tender grasses and legumes and tend to pass up longer plants, and weeds. Cows, on the other hand, go for longer, stemmier grasses; sheep like broad-leaf plants; and goats…they’ll eat most anything including leaves and twigs, and will nibble on trees and shrubs as well.

Not only does this practice maximize the potential of a pasture, but it decreases the need for mowing and the use of herbicides as well.

All pastures need a break to rejuvenate periodically, however, so rotating pastures is advised. Animals should be pulled off a pasture when forage is less than two to three inches high and/or when there are uneven patches, to prevent over-grazing. Weeds should be mowed, and manure can be spread and harrowed. When the forage has regrown to six to eight inches, the pasture can be used again.

  1. Add Vegetation Plant trees to act as windbreaks and for cooling. Trees near buildings can reduce the temperature indoors by several degrees. Leaves deflect heat and the evaporation from the leaves causes local cooling effects. Further, the addition of trees and shrubs near buildings can help reduce erosion caused by rainwater runoff by slowing the flow of the water, absorbing it and filtering sediments.

Native trees and shrubs can also be used as a vegetation buffer zone. A strip of trees or shrubs at least 25 feet wide, between horse pastures and a natural water source, will reduce runoff and purify the water. It will also provide a natural habitat for bird and small wildlife.

  1. Reduce Erosion Eradicate mud and prevent erosion to soil and buildings in particularly wet areas on the farm by installing a French drain to redirect surface and groundwater from one area to another. A French drain is basically a gravel-filled trench (about five to six inches wide and eight to 12 inches deep), topped with layers of coarse sand, soil and sod.

While some of these systems can get away without, others include a perforated pipe inside the trench to help direct the excess water. The chosen drain style will depend on the amount of standing water, as well as the soil type in the trouble spot. French drains must be installed at a slope that takes advantage of gravity to move the water from point A to point B. Consulting a professional during the planning stages is a must, and hiring them on to do the job is also recommended for most farm owners.