Equines have a peculiar place in our society. From livestock to sport, through to landscape managers and leisure partners, equines show a wide range of little-known environmental advantages and assets. Today’s wake-up calls about the environment are progressively putting pressure on stakeholders of the agricultural sector, including the equine industry. This study focusses on the main environmental consequences of equine use and possession in Europe based on scientific and technical sources under the lens of five leading sectors where equines show unique impacts as green assets. Now, more than ever before, it is important to highlight the role of equines as a green alternative in political debates and management practices to give them the place equines deserve in the ecological transition of agriculture.
Despite the decline of equine populations in the middle of the 20th century, the European horse industry is growing again thanks to economic alternatives found in the diversification of the uses of equines (sports, racing, leisure, etc.). Equines have many environmental advantages, but the fragmentation of the sector and the lack of synthetic knowledge about their environmental impacts do not enable the promotion of these assets and their effective inclusion in management practices and European policies.
To highlight the equine environmental impacts, a literature review was carried out to cover the main European stakes. This work led to the identification of five “green assets”, fields where equines show unique environmental advantages compared to other agricultural productions. These green assets are linked to the nature of equines (grazing and domestic biodiversity), to their geographical distribution (land use), and to their use by human beings (tourism and work).
Today, when searching for sustainable solutions to modern environmental issues, the use of equines is a neglected green alternative. Better knowledge and use of equine green assets could partly respond to more ecological agricultural needs and contribute to the development of this animal industry, which has a place in regional development and in Europe’s sustainable transition.
The equine industry is constantly evolving according to changes in society. One of the next steps is linked to the growing environmental awareness. This issue concerns citizens but also the political spheres, thereby putting pressure on the stakeholders of all economic sectors, including the equine industry. Indeed, in most European countries, environmental issues are not yet considered to be important enough by stakeholders in the equine industry. However, through their green assets, equines can have an active role in ecological transition and debates, both alone and as a complement to other economic productions and services. In the future, it could be interesting to support knowledge exchange in order to progress equine research, thus making this industry more visible and understandable, and to include equines in political debates about the environment and raise awareness about equine uses to avoid radical actions from animal activists. Creating and publishing all kinds of communication media, such as articles, photos, videos, websites, and podcasts, could be a way to reach a larger audience and make equine owners adapt their management practices to better use equine green assets.
From European organizations to society, everyone should be aware of the potential place of equines during the ecological and agronomic transition toward a greener future.
This entry is adapted from the peer-reviewed paper 10.3390/ani10010106