Horses & the Environment

Frequently Asked Questions


What’s so bad about horse poop in the environment?
It’s not that it’s stinky… The real problem is that horse poop contains a lot of two everyday chemicals – nitrogen and phosphorus. These chemicals really act as a fertilizer; it helps plants grow. But when too much of it gets into a stream, it helps too much of something else grow – algae. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in water can mess up the food chain wherever the stream goes, even the ocean.

What’s so good about horse poop in the environment?
See the “What’s so bad” question above. Horse poop contains a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus, which works as a fertilizer. It helps plants grow! But, it needs to be managed. It has to be stored and used correctly, and prevented from getting into the water supply.

Is it really possible to completely clean the rain water that runs through pastures?
Nothing’s perfect, but we can get pretty close. At the Equine Science Center’s Ryders Lane Demonstration Horse Farm, a bioswale was built that runs through the pasture. A bioswale is a shallow ditch full of plants that use up the nitrogen and phosphorus in horse poop. By the time pasture water moves slowly through the bioswale, there is just about no nitrogen or phosphorus left.

What happens when horses eat all the grass in a pasture?
We certainly don’t like when farmers let that happen! Hungry horses prefer that farmers use a little trick called rotational grazing. That’s when farmers let horses eat and hang out in certain areas of the pasture, while other areas rest. The farmer can then fertilize and remove weeds from the resting areas, and make sure the right plants grow back.

How does Integrated Crop Management help the environment?
Integrated Crop Management, or ICM, lets farmers work on one or a few fields at a time without horses getting in the way. It gives farmers time to test the soil to find out what is needed to grow good nutritious plants for horses to eat. Once the farmer has the test results, the soil can be fertilized correctly, using the least amount of fertilizer, and bad weeds can be crowded out by planting good grasses. The need for fertilizers and weed killers then goes down.

Why do horse farms smell bad?
Please, please! Maybe horse farms USED to smell bad because farmers didn’t understand what to do with all that horse manure. But nowadays, science helps farmers to turn horse manure into valuable compost that they can use to fertilize and improve pastures and other crop fields. Compost just smells like fresh dirt. If you go by a horse farm that smells bad, please tell the farmer to visit this web site!


Can I build a rain garden at home?
Absolutely! It’s easy to build, and once it’s there, it hardly needs any care! A rain garden helps stormwater gather in one place. Stormwater feeds the plants in the raingarden and helps water seep into the soil. It also can be used to eliminate soggy spots and stormwater runoff on any lawn. The Ryders Lane Demonstration Horse Farm at the Equine Science Center has a great example of a rain garden that includes instructions on construction. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by. If you’re not, you can get more info on rain gardens by clicking on here.

Want to learn more?