Horses and the environment: friend or foe?

Posted on 22/11/2023

Horses and the environment: friend or foe?

“The horse IS good for the environment.” asserted Ruth Dancer, Director at environmental sustainability consultancy White Griffin. at our recent annual conference. Addressing a global audience of almost 1,000 people, including Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, Ruth also pointed out that there are already many existing environmental positives in the way horses are kept but wondered, “Perhaps where we are going wrong is to forget its job in nature and instead giving it the name of athlete.”  

That horses, people and the environment shared ‘One Welfare’ was highlighted throughout the conference – as well as how the horse world had a huge opportunity to make a significant positive difference to the environment.  

Recognising the interconnectedness of all the rich tapestry of topics covered, our Chief Executive Roly Owers acknowledged that there are no clear-cut answers:

“When we start to think about the future, it is vital to remember that sustainability is about adaptation as well as mitigation, we must all be agents of change. We are all in the same herd. There are small steps that can take us forward to be good land managers as well as being good horse managers. We haven’t inherited the equestrian sector from our predecessors, we’ve borrowed it from our successors.”

Roly Owers, Chief Executive

Our President pointed out:

“These things do sometimes sound simple and at the end of the day they are more complicated. We need to make absolutely sure we do understand the horse’s place in the environment and our ability to support them be as natural as possible while we enjoy their presence and the different ways in which we relate to them.

“Practically everything that we know makes a difference will take more time. It will be less convenient. And practically all of the decisions we’ve made on scale and efficiency are based on taking less time and being more convenient. Scale is something we have to manage better because it can always destroy even the best of ideas.”

Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal

The One Welfare concept was shared among other topics covered, including the environmental impact of horse sport, the challenges of climate change faced by working equids around the world and the communities who rely on them, the use of horses as a vital conservation tool and how we can improve the way we keep, travel and compete horses for the benefit of all.

And with social licence being a hot topic with regards to our relationship with horses and their welfare, Irish Senator Pippa Hackett, Minister of State for Agriculture with responsibility for Land Use and Biodiversity, reminded us that it also obligates us to be environmentally responsible. Cautioning delegates, she said:

“Every single one of us working in the equine industry needs to be thinking about our environmental impact. It’s really utterly necessary if the horse sector and horse ownership are to retain that social licence.”

Pippa Hackett, Irish Senator

Recognising the interconnectedness of all the rich tapestry of topics covered, Roly concluded:

“We all share one future: One Health, One Welfare. Animals, humans and the environment are intertwined.”

Roly Owers

We would like to thank the headline sponsor of the Conference, The Sir Peter O’Sullevan Charitable Trust, and our supporters, the Horserace Betting Levy Board and Equine Register.

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