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Making Strides: Sustainability in the Equestrian Industry

equestrian sustainability
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Written by Laura V

Sustainable Equestrian Clothing, Gear, and More

It’s no secret that the horse industry has a significant economic impact both in the United States and worldwide. A University of Minnesota study estimates the economic impact of the US horse industry to be $122 billion. With economic impact comes environmental impact.

In this article, we’ll analyze current sustainability efforts within the horse industry, highlight which companies are making positive impacts, and discuss how we, as horse owners, can contribute.

*Feature photo credit: EQL by Kerrits

Sustainability Defined

Sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

What sustainability measures exist today in the horse industry?

While there aren’t currently any industry-wide measures, some organizations and specific shows have made changes to become more sustainable. The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) took action in 2011 when they refurbished their headquarters using the Minergie sustainable building standard. This change reduced energy consumption by 25%.

Another sustainability-focused organization to check out is Green is the New Blue, a group that helps horse shows be more environmentally responsible.

Green is the New Blue partners with horse shows to reduce water use, introduce environmentally friendly product packaging, add water refill stations, and eliminate waste.

Show federations and management are implementing environmentally friendly practices to reduce waste and encourage sustainable practices. These include water refill stations, recycling ribbons, and reducing water use at shows.

Compared to other industries, the horse industry is fairly sustainable. Horses have a positive environmental impact since they improve soil quality and productivity. Horse manure can also be turned into green energy for farms.

While the horse show industry does have net negative environmental impacts, it is hardly one of the biggest offenders.

Four Responsible Equine Companies

These equine-focused companies have made changes to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly in recent years. Many companies are proactively taking measures to reduce their carbon footprint and practice greater responsibility in their businesses. 

Top 4 Companies Focused on Sustainability

  1. Horseware Ireland is doing their part to reduce carbon “hoofprints” (we love this!) by introducing the Eco Collection. This collection features blankets and sheets made from recycled plastic bottles. Roughly 218 plastic bottles are recycled to create one turnout blanket. On top of that, the company has partnered up with One Tree Planted and has pledged to plant a tree for every Amigo AmECO 12 Plus blanket sold.
  2. EQL by Kerrits™ is a responsibly made lifestyle apparel brand based in the Pacific Northwest. EQL combines casual performance wear with a passion for horses, creating equileisure™ to unbridle your personal style. Plus, 1% of sales are donated to equine causes.
  3. Honest Riders is a UK-based company (they also ship to the US!) working towards a sustainable future in the horse world. All orders are delivered in 100% recyclable packaging. Items are ethically sourced and made from environmentally friendly eco-fabrics in Fair Wear certified factories.
  4. Hilton Herbs is a natural supplement company that switched its packaging from plastic tubs to a more sustainable alternative in February of 2019. They relaunched their dry supplements in Kraft paper bags with a polypropylene liner. While the liner is still made of plastic, this switch drastically reduced the amount of plastic that the company used for supplement packaging.

The Environmental Impact of Horses

Like any other sport or man-made location, keeping domesticated horses on land has a negative environmental impact. The main areas of concern when it comes to horse farms include:

  • Pollution from manure
  • Impacts on pastureland
  • Negative environmental impacts from production and transportation of feed and supplies
  • Use of water and energy to manage horse farms

While water and feed are necessities for horses, some actions can be taken to reduce the environmental impact of horses on our land.

Horse bath

Initially, reduce water usage:

  • When bathing your horse: Like turning the water off when you brush your teeth, make sure you’re using a hose nozzle or turning the water off when shampooing your horse.
  • Install automatic waterers. These prevent over-watering as you will use the exact amount of water your horse is drinking without the risk of forgetting and overflowing the water trough.

Next, consider packaging when making purchases.

  • Understand what plastics and other materials are recyclable in your area. Recycling packaging for feed, supplements, and care products is a great way to practice sustainability in your barn!
  • If you have plastic tubs or buckets that can’t be recycled, try to find other uses for them around the barn. Looking for ways to give new life to items that normally may be thrown away embodies the “reuse” component of reduce, reuse, and recycle!
  • Look at buying supplements and other products that come in non-plastic packaging, or that come with a refill option. A refill option is a great sustainable practice since you will not purchase bulky plastic containers each month that may not be able to be recycled. Some companies offer their refills in paper packaging that can then be added back to plastic containers. Hilton Herbs, mentioned above, is a great supplement company to check out if you are thinking about making a sustainable switch.

You can decrease the environmental impact of your horse by reducing water usage, recycling when possible, and switching to companies with sustainable packaging.

Product packaging

horse rookie guide to jumping

Sustainable Horse Products

Equestrian companies have made improvements to their products and manufacturing processes. New brands also are emerging in the space with a greater focus on sustainability. While we’ve seen many clothing companies working on sustainability, there are some bedding and grooming companies that are also doing their part to protect the environment.

Prestige Equine Bedding is a great example. They’ve managed to engineer organic bedding made from recycled paper products. Not only is it good for the environment, but it is also hypoallergenic and lightweight.

What sustainability factors should you consider when shopping for equine products?

The next time you’re purchasing equine products, think about:

  • Where the products are made
  • Whether products are made with recycled materials
  • If the packaging is made from recyclable or compostable materials

Buying New vs. Buying Quality

Looking to buy new riding tights, show shirts, or sports bras? First, stop to think about if you really need the newest trendy piece of clothing or if the riding apparel you already have in your closet will do the job.

If yes, no judging! Consider the following:

  • Take a little time to research companies that focus on sustainable manufacturing supporting the environment in the process. The companies mentioned above are a great start! Buy local when possible to reduce the environmental impact of shipping goods over great distances.
  • Consider buying second-hand or gently used clothing. Check if tack stores in your area have consignment shops where you can shop second-hand. Buying gently used clothing can help to reduce the number of carbon emissions put into the air from producing new clothes and also reduces the number of textiles that end up in landfills. You may even find some hidden gems for a great bargain!
  • Shop for quality over quantity. While the price points on some clothing items can be daunting, high-quality items will survive the test of time and help to prevent waste in the future. In the long run, if fewer people are purchasing new clothes, then there will be less waste and use of resources.

Horse saddle

Vegan Horse Tack

Vegan tack is really not a new concept in the horse world. Many manufacturers have been producing tack and goods made from synthetic materials for years. Popular alternatives include boots, halters, and lead ropes.

Vegan leather has become popular in recent years as segments of the population are seeking alternatives to real animal leather.

Vegan horse tack is riding equipment made from synthetic materials, or vegan leather, as opposed to using real leather that is made of animal skin. The most common materials used for vegan leathers are polyvinyl chloride and polyurethane, both of which are both plastic-based materials. These have become more popular in recent years. More brands are starting to compete in the “vegan tack” marketplace.

horse rookie guide to jumping

Is vegan horse tack more sustainable than traditional leather?

When considering vegan horse tack and its sustainability footprint, you need to evaluate a few things. First, yes—vegan tack is cruelty-free since no animals are used in its production. When it comes to preserving the lives of animals, vegan products check this box.

Since these products are made from plastic, however, there is a sustainability impact to factor into your decision.

Plastic production releases toxins into the environment. Plastic fabrics, when washed, release microplastics into our water supply. Polyvinyl chloride is made from fossil fuels which can be harmful to both humans and the environment.

Another factor to ponder is the durability of vegan leather. While there are many different forms and qualities, vegan leather is generally less durable than genuine leather. Because of this, you will have to repurchase these items more often, as they will not last as long as real leather products.

The sustainability of vegan leather depends on how you look at it. Yes, animal lives are spared, but the production of vegan horse tack may not be as environmentally friendly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What company makes the most sustainable equestrian clothing?

Some equestrian clothing companies that focus on sustainability are EQL by Kerrits™, Aztec Diamond Equestrian, Equestrian Stockholm, Honest Riders, and Kaia Equine.

Q: Can vegans ride horses?

Yes, vegans can absolutely ride horses! It is possible to purchase horse tack and equipment that does not use any animal by-products.

Q: Is buying local more sustainable?

Shopping locally is more sustainable in the long run. It cuts down on emissions from product transportation as products don’t have to travel as far to make it to the end-user. Plus, shopping locally supports the local economy so everyone can thrive.

horse rookie guide to jumping

Q: What are some green techniques for horse management?

Green techniques for stable management include not overwatering, switching to bedding made from recycled materials, upcycling plastic bins, reducing or eliminating runoff, and practicing proper manure management.

Parting Thoughts

Overall, the horse industry is making great strides (pun intended) towards sustainability and an environmentally-friendly future. Don’t forget about the small things you can do on a daily basis to make an impact. For example, bring a reusable water bottle to refill during your ride instead of drinking from plastic bottles.

Next time you’re leaving a horse show after a successful weekend, consider donating your ribbons back to the show office to be reused instead of throwing them away.

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, trot on over to: 

Sources

https://pittmoss.com/product/prestige/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw8_qRBhCXARIsAE2AtRbW7HyYDUiovpdlaPhy3V_xx7Hksw4OYWmJj6pnkY7U8O50TqCOZDgaApgKEALw_wcB
https://shop.horseware.com/onetreeplanted/
https://inside.fei.org/media-updates/fei-takes-lead-sustainable-equestrian-future
https://www.greenisthenewblue.org/refusetouse
https://www.peta.org/about-peta/faq/how-does-peta-feel-about-horseback-riding/

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About the author

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Laura V

Laura has showed competitively on the A/AA circuit in hunters, jumpers, and equitation, including in major equitation finals like WIHS, ASPCA Maclay Finals, and USEF Hunt Seat Medal Finals. She was also recruited to ride on the Division 1 Equestrian team at the University of South Carolina. While she does not ride anymore, horses are still a big part of her life. She is involved with the NCEA and college riding, and she has worked professionally as a marketer for an online horse care retailer.