Alayne Blickle, a life-long equestrian, is creator and program director of Horses for Clean Water, a program that promotes environmentally sensitive horse-keeping by offering education on manure management, mud reduction, pasture improvements, and eco-friendly horse facilities.

Monday, 10 Dec 2001

MAPLE VALLEY, Wash.

I’m up before dawn, as it’ll be a big day here on our 10-acre horse farm in Maple Valley, Wash. In a few short hours, I expect to have 50 or more vehicles driving up our driveway, full of eager horse-owners anxious to learn about the environmental practices of my farm. This is what I do for a living: teach people how to manage horses in a way that works for them, their horses, their neighborhood, and the environment. As the owner and manager of Horses for Clean Water, as a horse-owner, and as an environmental educator, I promote ways to manage horses that minimize non-point pollution.

Runoff from livestock manure reaches streams and wetlands and has a heavy impact on the environment: Sediments cloud the water, nutrients cause unbalanced vegetation growth, and bacteria contaminate shellfish beds. Even if a horse-owner doesn’t have a stream or other water source on their property, contaminated runoff from manure and soil erosion can still make its way into a local lake or creek or affect ground water. Poor farm management practices can also cause other damage to the environment, such as eroded stream banks, overgrazed pastures and soil erosion, and loss of wildlife habitat.

Giving a lesson in good horse-keeping.

So, today my job is to “sell” environmentally sensitive horse-keeping in a package that’s attractive to my fellow horse-owners. The name of that package is managing manure and reducing mud. Wintertime in the Pacific Northwest is a particularly challenging time for horse-owners, who have to face the daily sight of horses standing in thigh-deep mud and manure piles the size of Mt. Rainer. Aside from being messy, living in mud creates an unhealthy environment for a horse. Mud harbors parasites, bacteria, and fungal organisms that affect horse health. One horse produces around 50 lbs. of manure per day, adding up to eight tons per year. While this can be a space issue, it also causes problems with odors, flies, and runoff for the farm owner as well as the community.

So, what do I show and tell my audience of more than 60 folks? First, create a sacrifice area, more commonly known as a paddock, to keep pastures from becoming overgrazed and ruined. This paddock becomes the horse’s outdoor living quarters. I advocate managing mud in this area in two main ways: picking up manure on a regular basis and installing rain gutters on all barns and outbuildings. Diverting the clean rainwater away from livestock areas reduces the amount of nutrients and sediments washed into surface waters. It also means less mud for horses and horse-owners to slosh around in.

Composting horse manure is an excellent manure-management technique that we promote. On our farm we compost the yard and stall waste from six horses and reapply it to our four acres of pastures. Our pastures were so productive this past summer that even in a drought year we never had to irrigate and had more pasture grass than our horses could graze.

Planting native trees and shrubs is another important practice I encourage. I explain to horse-owners how more and more wildlife habitat is being lost each year as land is subdivided and developed. Even though pastures don’t provide good habitat for most wildlife, horse-owners can help offset habitat loss by growing a diversity of native plants in portions of their farm. I show them how native trees and shrubs can provide important benefits to farm owners as timber crops, windbreaks, buffers between neighbors, and firewood. They also provide a natural filtration system for nutrients, help prevent soil erosion, and provide habitat for wildlife.

Two hours later, we are done with the tour. We have looked at mudless paddocks with gutters, downspouts and drainage techniques, composting areas, worm bins for household food scraps, pasture management and rotational grazing, natural insect control methods, mudless, all-season riding arenas, and wildlife enhancement techniques. Inspired horse-owners are filing down the driveway while a few, still eager to chat, are hanging around the paddocks trading horse stories. Suddenly, a wonderful sight rewards my morning’s work; two very large birds soar out of the neighboring Douglas Firs and across our paddocks. As they tumble above the paddocks, turning away across the front pasture, we squint our eyes in an attempt to identify them. Bright white heads and tails give them away; two bald eagles are the grand finale at today’s Horses for Clean Water farm tour.

Now what can top that? That’s easy: Matt and I saddle up our horses and get ready to hit the trails! As they say, it’s a tough job, but …