Developing sport horses is a water-intensive enterprise – study

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The study team with the University of Buenos Aires calculates, for the first time, the water footprint of jumping sport horses.
A study team has calculated, for the first time, the water footprint of jumping sport horses. File image by A_Different_Perspective

Developing a top-quality sport horse requires good breeding and careful training for the animal to reach its full potential. It also requires a lot of water, researchers in Argentina have found.

Mariana Vaccaro and her fellow researchers at the University of Buenos Aires noted the growing interest in the water footprint of the production of various items.

“The problem of water is one of the most feasible causes of a potential global crisis in the coming decades,” they wrote in the journal Agriculture.

The study team used the globally recognised life cycle assessment method to calculate, for the first time, the water footprint of jumping sport horses.

A sport-horse farm in the Province of Buenos Aires was selected for the study. It is home to 50 high and medium-performance jumping horses, all of whom have a similar training routine and management practices.

The high-performance and medium performance horses followed similar daily routines, involving walking in the morning in a horse walker, followed by walking and trotting with a rider later in the day, before 50 minutes of jumping work. The high-performance horses complete the routine six days a week and tackle higher jumps than the medium-performance horses. The medium-performance horses complete the routine only three days a week.

The study team looked at the quantities of water used for drinking, for feed and dietary supplement production, bathing water, and the water to clean the boxes, all of which was sourced from an 80m deep well.

The medium performance equines were washed down three times a week, while high-performance animals were washed down every day. A total of 90 litres per animal was estimated for each bath.
The medium performance equines were washed down three times a week, while high-performance animals were washed down every day. A total of 90 litres per animal was estimated for each bath. File image by Christel Sagniez

Average drinking water consumption for a 450kg horse in active work is 54 to 63 litres per animal per day. Animal water consumption was thus estimated, and the figure was verified during the regular visits by a veterinarian to the farm.

The estimated amount of water consumed in total each month by the 30 high-performance animals was 56,700 litres, while the 20 medium-performance animals drank a total of 32,400 litres.

The medium performance equines were washed down three times a week, while high-performance animals were washed down every day. A total of 90 litres per animal was estimated for each bath.

This amounted to about 75,600 litres per month in total for the high-performance horses and 21,600 litres per month for the medium-performance horses.

Shampoo and conditioner with similar characteristics to those used by humans were also applied, the researchers noted.

Boxes were washed down twice a week on the farm, using about 15 litres of water per box. This amounted to 3600 litre per month for all the top-tier horses and 2400 litres per month for the medium performance horses.

The study term also traversed the water indirectly incorporated in horse production through feed. Alfalfa was the main component of the hay used for feeding the horses in the study. The hay in this case was produced on unirrigated farms which were dependent on rainfall. The region received 850mm to 940mm yearly.

The animals also received 5kg of oats daily, and a ration of an oil mix. All such feed elements required water input, they noted.

The production of medium and high-performance sports equines uses a large amount of water, the study team concluded.

The average across the 50 horses for drinking, bathing, and the cleaning of their stalls amounted to just under 3900 litres per horse per month, without adding the amount required for feed production.

The authors believe that modifications in diet management — the type and percentage of oils in the supplement, place of origin of hay, etc — and in waste management and disposal, for the likes of horse bedding, might in some cases reduce the water requirements and the environmental impact of horse production.

“Producers, farm workers, and veterinarians have a key role in the sustainability of sport equine production, since the decisions related to animals’ diet management, and the purchase of supplies for bathing and cleaning of boxes are essential aspects to minimize the environmental impact of this production.

“To accomplish this, it is necessary to strengthen the social link of communication among producers, workers, and veterinarians conducting workshops and training on the use and management of water on the farms and promoting good practices.”

Producers that demonstrate a commitment to good water and resource management could be encouraged through tax reductions or competitive advantages in the commercialization and export of animals in order for them to make the application of good practices a concrete goal, they said.

The study team comprised Vaccaro, Alberto García-Liñeiro, Alicia Fernández-Cirelli and Alejandra Volpedo.

Vaccaro, M.M.; García-Liñeiro, A.; Fernández-Cirelli, A.; Volpedo, A.V. Life Cycle Assessment of Water in Sport Equine Production in Argentina: A Case Study. Agriculture 2021, 11, 1084. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture11111084

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here.

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One thought on “Developing sport horses is a water-intensive enterprise – study

  • November 6, 2021 at 8:57 am
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    These amounts of water are enormous!
    And bathing a horse nearly every day probably isn’t the best thing for their natural skin barrier, especially when shampoo is used.

    Reply

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