Why Horse Owners Should Care About Climate Change

HappyHorseHealthyPlanet_Climate Change

How many times in the last year did weather affect your riding plans? Did your lesson or trail ride get cancelled from a storm or heat? Was the ring at the show full of puddles? Did your horse throw a shoe or have an abscess due to the mud? If you are like me it seems like I am answering “Yes” more and more often to these questions.

As an equestrian and as an environmental scientist I spend a lot of time outside. My joy and my livelihood are dependent on the weather. It’s important to me to be able to teach that lesson, visit that farm for a consult, or just enjoy a trail ride without the negative impact of severe weather.

I haven’t always been so concerned with man’s (and horsemen’s) impact on the environment. Thirty years ago I ran a boarding and training barn that backed up to the Bohemia River which flows to the Chesapeake Bay.

HappyHorseHealthyPlanet_CC_Map

I had an uncovered manure pile, mud in my paddocks and used chemicals on my pastures and horses. I was too busy raising my kids and making a living to realize the degradation my farm was causing to the ecology of that river, and to the Bay. Thinking back I remember we had some big snow storms and it was hot riding in the summer, but I never gave much thought to climate change back then.

Climate change can increase or decrease rainfall which affects many aspects of horse ownership and equestrian activity. Climate change can affect feed and hay pricing; when there is too much rain, or not enough, agricultural crop yields are not as productive.  It’s the old supply and demand principle.

HappyHorseHealthyPlanet._Out of Hay

Climate change can affect human and animal health. The weather influences insect proliferation which spreads disease. I can’t even remember hearing about West Nile or Lime disease when I had my horse farm.  My biggest worry was equine encephalitis which I vaccinated against. Now there are strains of that you can’t protect your horse from. Or yourself for that matter.  What scares me is the rapid increase in these things.  West Nile wasn’t even in the U.S until 1999 but by 2002, the number of areas reporting WNV grew to 44 states and 5 Canadian provinces.

Arabian horse in the stable

Owning a horse is expensive and the hidden costs really add up. Extra gas for the bigger vehicles needed to transport them, extra electricity for lights and fans in the barn. More demands on the water supply. Climate change can impact our energy and water supply making the costs rise and the water unsafe to drink.

Happyhorsehealthyplanet_CC

 

As individuals we must personally decide our view on climate change.  If we believe in climate change (and its hard to deny it), we must take personal responsibility for our contribution to it.  We have a choice on how and what we want to do about it. You don’t have to believe that humans are effecting the weather and live your life accordingly, but I have to ask, why wouldn’t you?

Because of my profession I discuss the environment and the equine impacts daily. Many people argue that our weather has always had extremes. They quickly tell me examples like how droughts almost destroyed the American mid-west in the 1930s, a category 4 hurricane killed 8,000 people in 1900 and that record temperatures (higher than 115° F) have been recorded as early as 1913. No doubt this wild kind of weather has always been around, but it’s the increasing frequency of these extremes that has me worried enough to change.

I think most people can recognize that we are getting bigger weather events more often. The recorded data proves it. We have all seen the pictures of horses being rescued from floods or frozen in freak snow storms. So we must ask ourselves, why is this happening? I will agree that some of it is “natural” but one thing keeps bugging me, over the past 50 years the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history. What has caused this rapid increase? Is it mere coincidence that it coincides with increase in industrialization? With man’s demands?

Greenhouse-effect

To me the cool thing about science is that it’s based on theory. Unfortunately, many people seek certainties and facts whilst science typically offers probabilities. With something like climate change you cannot be certain what will happen in the future so we must predict what might happen if we don’t change course. Climate scientists have created models to help us understand where we are headed. The results of the models are the reason that 97% of ALL scientists believe that man contributes to the problem and that man needs to change the way we treat our planet.

The mass media, on the other hand, is strictly based on reporting facts (well, most of the time). The media frequently distorts the public’s scientific understanding of climate change through sensationalizing stories and by requiring factual evidence to support a human contribution to climate change.

HappyHorseHealthyPlanet_Media

What bothers me about this is that these folks are getting paid by the few wealthy individuals and corporations that own most of the mass media outlets to say these things.  They might not personally believe what they are reporting. John Mayer so aptly describes the problem when he sings,

“And when you trust your television, What you get is what you got.  Cause when they own the information, Oh they can bend it all they want.”

I have decided to believe in the science of climate change; the probability that I am contributing to the problem and that if mankind doesn’t change our planet won’t survive. As a scientist I know that scientists change their minds on the basis of the evidence, and a consensus emerges over timeAs a horse person I have seen my feed prices go up due to drought and foreign demand. I have seen an increase in insects and their related diseases. I am already paying enough for the energy I use. Therefore, I am choosing to own my contribution to the Earth’s atmosphere and I am living my life as environmentally conscious as possible. I am choosing to believe that my choices will make a difference for the future. For my kids and their kids.

Me and my grandbabies

Me and my grandbabies

You don’t have to live “green” but why wouldn’t you?

Til we meet again,

~Laura

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