Do You Expect To Keep Feeding Hay'

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Late in 2010, Active Interest Media, which owns this publication, conducted a survey among about 1,200 readers of its various magazines and websites, and one asked, ”Please rank the following in terms of how much each may impact your life as a horse owner in the future.”

The choices were 1) availability of land to trail ride; 2) cost of boarding; 3) distance to a boarding facility; 4) cost of land for horse-keeping on your own property; 5) zoning limitations on horse ownership; 6) cost of feed, especially hay; 7) price of horses for your interest; 8) less time available for horses (work, family).

Of those eight choices, the three that by far concerned readers the most were: cost of feed/hay (36%), cost of boarding (21%) and availability of land to trail ride (19%). Actually, 60 percent ranked the cost of feed/hay as their first, second or third choice.

What’s significant' All three concerns are directly related to the loss of land to development. That isn’t a shock to those of us who lead the Equine Land Conservation Resource (www.elcr.org), where I’ve been on the Executive Committee for almost five years. Actually, they’re the reason for ELCR, but it’s been challenging to teach this relationship to riders and to convince them to join us in saving land for horses.

Look around your own area and ask, how are we going to feed our horses in the future' Where is hay going to grow' Where are feed companies like LMF, Purina and Penn- field going to get the grains they need' And how much is it going to cost us' In 2030 or 2050, is a bag of grain going to cost $50 and a bale of hay $75 or $100'

Each day, we’re losing 6,000 acres of agricultural, forest and other open land to development (according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture). That’s 2.19 million acres per year, when the USDA calculates that we need 36 million acres to provide adequate feed for the 9.2 million U.S. horses. At the current rate of development, in a little more than 16 years, that amount of land will be gone — forever — and I’m sure you can envision the impact that will have on the cost of feed. Hay and grain are one of the big three items in my farm’s annual budget — so prices like those above would require us to more than double what we charge our clients. That’s probably why ”cost of boarding” was the No. 2 concern.

In the past three years, ELCR has been instrumental in conservation efforts for 44,237 acres of farmland and 985 miles of trails. We’re proud of those figures, but, as you can see, it’s just a pittance compared to what we’re losing.

So what can each of us do to help protect our own and our children’s future with horses' My answer is, simply, to support the ELCR, the only organization whose mission is to save land for horses, and your local land trust, especially if they’re a horse-friendly group. (Not all are.) It’s critical for everyone to join the battle with either their time and energy or with their checkbook.