Study explores environmental impact of sport horse production

Sport horse production farms should have an operational plan to manage waste, protect waterways and reduce unpleasant odors, say researchers.

The production of sport horses must be designed and managed to provide a consistent and practical approach to environmental conservation, according to researchers in Argentina.

Argentina exports horses for equestrian sports. Mariana Vaccaro and her fellow researchers at the University of Buenos Aires examined the environmental effects of sport horse production in the country.

Twenty-six sport horse production farms in the province of Buenos Aires were assessed for the research. The study team, reporting in the journal Sustainability, then proposed several actions to minimize the environmental effects.

Farm operators were surveyed and veterinary professionals were interviewed. The proximity of the farms to water bodies, the destination of stall bedding, management practices, and whether they receive veterinary advice were explored, as well as feed use, its composition, and water use.

Only two of the farms were ultimately assessed as having a low environmental impact, while 18 had a medium impact and five had a high impact.

The authors noted that just under half of the farms investigated in the study were near water bodies.

All the farms studied eliminated bedding and excretion waste in open-air deposits directly on the ground. “This situation is environmentally complex, since excretions may contain different compounds,” they said.

The discarded bedding can increase the volume of manure by two or three times, depending on the type of bedding used.

“The increasing levels of international equestrian sports and the socioeconomic benefits derived from them constitute a good reason to develop standards and terms relevant to a distinguished subpopulation of competition horses,” they said.

It is evident, they said, that the way in which bedding waste and excretions are placed outside the stalls is a key factor.

If there is rainfall, nutrients and elements present in bedding waste and excretions can leach into underground layers or nearby surface water bodies through runoff. Such waste can accumulate quickly if the time between elimination and removal is not considered.

Each sport horse production farm should implement an operational plan that includes comprehensive waste management to ensure facilities are clean and safe, protect streams and groundwater from potential leaching, and reduce unpleasant odors.

“There are some strategies to reduce the environmental impacts of horse excretions, such as using them as crop fertilizers or for the generation of renewable energy through anaerobic digestion.

“However, horse manure has not been considered viable for anaerobic digestion yet due to the high total solids content in combination with the presence of bedding materials with low process performance, such as wood chips and long straw which degrade slowly.”

The location of bedding and excretion disposal facilities should be away from streams, ponds and water wells. Floors should be concrete, compacted clay or plastic to reduce the possibility of infiltration into groundwater. Covers can be used to prevent manure storage and runoff (leaching) from manure piles entering streams and waterways.

Operational plans for such farms must be practical, ideally formulated with the input of veterinary professionals. “The results show that the role of the professional veterinarian is key in minimizing environmental impact,” they reported.

Farms need to follow best practice for feed optimization and water use. Formulating equine rations should preferably be based on nutritional analysis to minimize waste and reduce the environmental impact.

Sport horse production farms should have an operational plan to manage waste, protect waterways and reduce unpleasant odors, say researchers.

The study team concluded that sport horse production must be designed in such a way as to provide a consistently practical approach to environmental conservation.

“The characteristics of the different potential risk factors of this type of production (water use, feed, excretion management, location and distance from water bodies) must be considered to minimize environmental effects.”

Categorizing the impact of the farms, as carried out in the current study, can be an important step toward implementing measures to minimize environmental effects, they said.

The study team comprised Vaccaro, Alejandra Volpedo, Alberto Garcia-Liñeiro and Alicia Fernández-Cirelli, all with the University of Buenos Aires.

Vaccaro, M.M.; Volpedo, A.V.; Garcia-Liñeiro, A.; Fernández-Cirelli, A. Environmental Effects of Sport Horse Production Farms in Argentina. Sustainability 2023, 15, 12210.

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

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