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The horse hasn't bolted...equine sport is waking up to sustainability

Recently I was talking to my friend Portland Jones from Sustainable Equitation about integrating sustainability into equestrian sport in Australia. It’s an interesting challenge because it’s an industry that hasn’t done much about sustainability so far, but one that could have a significant and very public impact.

It's a large industry - equestrian sports alone (not including horse racing, polo/polocrosse, rodeo, western and tent pegging) contribute over AU$1.143 billion dollars to the Australian economy per annum, including a AU$12.724 million positive contribution to physical and mental health. If you add in all those other horse industries, it is roughly the same size as the livestock industry in Australia.

Certainly, the international governing body of equestrian sport, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) has recently begun promoting sustainability. Corporate sponsors of equestrian sport are also increasingly likely to be looking for causes that fit with their sustainability and corporate social responsibility profiles.

This all means local equestrian associations are likely to have to start getting up to speed on sustainability. It’s a common scenario for many industries in Australia that have never had to think about sustainability before and are now waking up to the fact that not only is it inevitable, it’s a good idea.

Individual horse-owners, property owners and horsey communities also stand to benefit from a bit of forward thinking on this, and I personally know many who would love to make a positive contribution.

So where to start? In many cases it might be best for equestrian organisations or communities to identify a small number of sustainability initiatives to begin with and build from there. Sustainability is always best implemented with a healthy appreciation of the local context. Pony clubs might have very different resources and aims than state or national bodies for instance.

Obvious first steps include reducing resource use and saving money – minimising water, energy and materials use and avoiding waste. This can relate to long term infrastructure, or equestrian events. The FEI has a great little handbook on how to run more sustainable events, for example.

As the FEI notes, the sport has already made some important inroads into sustainability, such as with their great work in promoting equality and health through the Paralympics and Riding for the Disabled. Still, there are plenty of other ideas that individuals, communities, and equestrian sport organisations could consider. Just as a taster, what about:

And a few big picture suggestions (which will require proper collaboration between many people to get right):

  • Develop an equivalent of the Green Building Council of Australia's Green Star Accreditation for horse properties, including peri-urban properties.

  • Reduce unsustainable packaging of equine products, and support companies that adhere to the Australian Packaging Covenant

  • Improve sustainability through the supply chain of all horse industry related products and services, with accreditation, and make sure people can easily obtain the information, such as by using QR codes. This could include animal welfare, fair trade and environmental standards.

  • Identify and prepare for climate change risks such as feed shortages or changing geographical ranges of disease vectors that may impact on horses in Australia.

  • Provide better digital and community infrastructure to support the horse community when it rallies in times of crisis. We've seen the horse community pull together impressively to rescue horses threatened by fires or floods. These sorts of emergencies will only increase with climate change, and people at the grassroots (pardon the pun), will play an enormous part in coping with them.

And so much more...the possibilities are limitless! If we put our heads together, we'll come up with innovative ideas, or ways to implement them that make sense in your local context.

The thing about sustainability is that it can't be a prescription, it's inevitably about learning by doing. Have a go, learn from it, change, adapt and add.

As the FEI says:

Equestrian sport is one of the most interested in conserving the environment because we are a truly global, Olympic and Paralympic sport that is in constant contact with our outstanding ambassador of nature - the horse.

As such, equestrian sport perfectly meets today’s values of welfare, social coherence and sustainability.

Disclaimer: Yes, I'm a horse rider!

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#sustainability #equestrian #industry