In Part I of this two-part series,Master of Natural Resources (MNR)program graduate student Martha Wehling introduced the concept of equine facilities as a luxury resources, and examined the socioeconomic stratification associated with equestrian sports. In the following post, Martha discusses other relevant resource boundaries, including gender disparities, immigrant employment, the impact on natural resources, and the role of natural resource managers.

As I explained in the first part of this series, students in Dr. Jennifer Lawrence’s Transboundary Resource Management course, including myself, were asked to consider the “limited supply” of luxury resources as a driver of supply and demand, to think about which resources should be considered as luxuries, and how the political economy of luxury resources creates challenges for environmental resource managers.  

Socioeconomic Stratification (continued)

Owning, maintaining, and training a horse, especially one that will be ridden in competitive events,  is an expensive undertaking.  There’s the initial purchase price, plus boarding, medical care, insurance, equipment, trainers, transportation, and entry fees [1]. As land values increase, so do the costs of obtaining the animals’ food, water, and waste management service. As such, equestrian sports will become even more stratified, until only the highly wealthy are able to afford it. To avoid this outcome, there will be opportunities for natural resource managers to take steps to maintain availability and access (see below).

Interestingly, equestrian sport has gender domination in two distinct and divergent areas.  At the upper levels, competitors and professionals are predominately male. However, at the amateur level, the sport is disproportionately female[2]. Thus, marketing and commodification are directed towards the female amateurs.

horse and rider

Immigrant Employment

There are also significant indirect costs related to equestrian sports, including proximity to urban professions, and employment of immigrants. Many horse facilities, veterinarians, and other service providers (e.g. feed mills, hay companies) offer lower wage employment. These jobs offer few, if any, benefits, disproportionate cost of living impacts, and as such, can have high turnover.  

Many employees must live a significant distance from the facility, which requires a personal method of transportation and the cost of fuel. This is due, in large part, because it is unusual for a bus line to run to a rural facility, unlike lower wage jobs in urban centers.

back to the barn

Impact on Natural Resources

Horse facilities can result in high impacts of natural resources, although those impacts may be less than other land uses. A horse facility generally requires at least one acre per horse, significant impermeable surfaces from the barn and arena roofs, and a location for manure management [3]. Many facilities are located on or near sensitive natural resources because those areas were not suitable for other types of development (residential, office, industrial).

As with the rose industry in Ecuador and Colombia, but to a lesser degree, the management of an equestrian facility can impact the water and vegetation through fertilization and pesticides on the pastures, runoff to waters or wetlands, and runoff from manure panels that are not properly managed [4].

In addition to the direct impacts on the property, there are also indirect natural resource impacts. One horse eats about 20 pounds of hay a day, and competition horses typically also eat pelleted grain [5]. Although there are significant variables, on average one acre yields 5 tons, or enough hay for one horse for a year [6].

In addition to the direct hay impacts, which include an acre of land per horse, heavy farm equipment and manual labor to process, correct growing climate, space for storage, and fertilizers and pesticides for the growth; hay requires water. Alfalfa, one of several types of hay, is relatively water intensive, requiring 4-6 inches for each ton of dry hay [7]. It is likely that water needs will continue to intensify, particularly as global warming shifts weather patterns, reducing snowpack, resulting in lower water in higher use seasons.

Currently, some countries import hay for their livestock, which requires additional use of natural resources for transportation to the shipping container (generally cargo ships), ocean travel, and then transportation from the port to the livestock location [8] As climate shift and water needs continue to impact natural resources, these costs will likely increase and compete with higher priority products.

The Resource Manager’s Role

Resource managers play a role in this luxury resource on several levels.  First, land managers can help maintain properties in agricultural and equestrian facilities.  Although these have some resource impacts, they may be a preferential use for a property with sensitive habitat compared to a residential or industrial development.  Similarly, land managers involved in long-term planning can keep some access and availability in areas with increasing populations, to minimize travel and accessibility for employees. 

Second, regulators can work to ensure proper use of chemicals and protection of waterbodies on the pastures at the facilities as well as the areas dedicated to production.  

Third, facilities and their users can use collectives and incentives to create awareness about the value of the sport, similar to the concerted effort made to market the Ethiopian coffee beans. By reducing middlemen, some of the costs can be reduced, making the sport more accessible to a wider socioeconomic group.  The “trademark” model is currently being used in the racehorse industry, which has been working to educate users on the flexibility of off the track thoroughbreds, marketing them for many disciplines, which could reduce the limited supply concept and increase employment opportunities [9]

dinner time

The boundaries and challenges discussed in this series should help to explain the decline of equestrian facilities and participation in equestrian sports in the United States. However, the impacts are not limited to the U.S.


Martha Wehling headshot