Horse people end up being environmentalists by default. Our hobby and our passion revolve around being outdoors. Even some top show jumpers get to spend time out at pasture or may even be taken on trail rides.
We rely on hay grown in big fields to feed our horses along with some fresh green grass at times. Water needs to be fresh and plentiful to keep our equine companions healthy and happy.
So what is important environmentally for our horses and their health' Most hays are grown without pesticides or herbicides, although it's always wise to inquire about the source of your hay. In general, pastures are pesticide- and herbicide-free as well, but ask about any spraying done around the fence lines. The chemicals may leach into water supplies and pastures if the spraying is done nearby.
If you live in a suburban neighborhood, be aware that your neighbors may be having lawn treatments done. If you live downwind, some may also blow onto your property. Many horse facilities rely on wells. Should we be getting our water tested' I think so. Many local hardware stores have kits that are free or check with your local Cooperative Extension.
I attended a wildlife-rehabilitation conference years ago with a veterinary speaker who mentioned that golf courses are some of the most toxic land in North America. The heavy use of pesticides and herbicides contaminate the ground and lead to runoff that can get into the local water supply. Photos of piles of dead Canada geese who had drunk from a golf course pond will remain in my memory forever. Luckily golf never appealed to me!
We had our well water tested years ago when we first moved to our small farm, and all was fine. Since then, the Oneida Indian Nation has built three golf courses within five miles of our farm. I worry about runoff contaminating our wells, although they are trying to minimize the use of sprays. Horse manure and manure piles need to be carefully managed too. I feel our water needs to be tested again?and actually I should probably do it every couple of years. Consider any development, including new houses, near your set-up as a reason to check your water cleanliness.
Do we need to worry about GMO (genetically modified organisms) such as new varieties of feed grains' Recent news articles claim virtually all corn grown in North America is GMO.? My primary concern about the GMO grains is that, without variety, if a disease should strike, many fields could be wiped out. There are studies suggesting that some of the heritage grains had more nutrients. Right now, organic grains probably aren?t necessary, but stay on top of agricultural developments for the sake of you and your horses.
Horsemen often lead the move to keep ?green space? ?fighting for trails and open land. Of course, then we have to fight for the right to ride our horses on those trails. You should support groups like the Equine Land Conservation Resource (www.elcr.org).? We also need to ride sensibly, work on the trails and fight erosion and severe wear. Developed areas still have horse lovers, and they want places to ride other than around and around a ring. I was shocked to learn many years ago when I was in 4-H that New Jersey actually had more pleasure horses than some of the states out West. Horses are truly part of the American heritage.
If you head out on a trail on your horse, your odds of seeing and getting close to wildlife are much higher than someone on an ATV or snowmobile. One day I was working my Appaloosa mare in our big field and had my Belgian Tervuren dog with me. There were four deer in the adjoining hayfield. Something spooked them, and over the fence they came, running right up to us! My dog was very well trained and simply held a down stay. The deer came right up to my horse; then suddenly appeared to realize that she was not simply a really big, odd-colored deer. They took off, but not before giving me a great moment to revel in their company.
Yes, horse people are naturally environmentalists. It comes with the territory. Do your part to help keep our horses and our environment protected.
Article by Contributing Veterinary Editor Deb Eldredge, DVM.