I was asked recently how I reconcile the fact that I own a truck that gets 18mpg with my self-proclaimed “tree hugger” status. It got me thinking about how my identity as a horse owner fits into my green lifestyle.
First, let’s get one thing straight. I didn’t say I was a tree hugger. My little family is environmentally conscious. We made a decision to make some lifestyle changes several years ago, and they’ve stuck. I think people have this idea in their heads that they have to be 100% tree hugger, or nothing at all. But small changes can make a big difference. For example, shortly after our daughter was born, we began using cloth diapers. This is not to say that we didn’t use disposables when it was more convenient, but instead of using 60-70 disposable diapers per week on our newborn, we probably used 5 or 6. (For the record, this is a much more economical choice too!)
We stopped using paper towels. We still keep a roll on the counter, but we probably use 2-3 rolls per year, instead of 2-3 per month. Instead, we bought “shop rags” which are just plain white cotton rags. We keep a bucket of clean ones under the kitchen sink, and a bucket of dirty ones in the laundry room.
We also use cloth napkins. I bought cheap ones—not the nice kind you’d use for a dinner party (not that we have dinner parties on the regular…) and they’ve lasted for 4+ years.
We ditched plastic baggies for lunches. These cool reusable bags are easy to wash, and come in cute colors and patterns for the kids. For that matter, skip the straws and save the turtles, amiright? Try out silicon or stainless reusable straws.
But we still use too much water. I like a long hot shower when I’ve been out in the cold mucking stalls. I order too much stuff on Amazon. I’d rather spend my time with my kids or at the barn or with my kids at the barn, than at Target or the mall. The kids (okay, let’s be real—their parents too) still like the convenience of GoGo Squeez pouches, and bottles of Powerade. We recycle what we can, but realistically, I know a lot of it isn’t going to actually get recycled.
And I have an F150. It gets good gas mileage for it’s size. But it’s still a truck. Our smaller car gets close to 30mpg. The F150 is the vehicle we use to travel (because the kids come with a lot of stuff!). It’s not a daily commuter vehicle, but it is driven frequently when I go to pick up grain or head out to the barn. It obviously pulls my horse trailer too.
I use a lot of gas going back and forth to the barn. We use tractors and utility vehicles and lawn mowers. Of course we use a ton of water in the stalls and in the pastures and to water the arena and to bathe the horses and to wash all the things. Trees are often logged for pasture space. Horses use crops and crop land that could be used to feed people.
Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile these two very important pieces of my identity. I don’t have my own farm yet, so I don’t have much control. Here are a few things I do to minimize my impact on the planet, while still enjoying my horse.
- Buy good stuff, and take care of it. Our horses need tack and blankets. If you get the good stuff, you won’t have to replace it as frequently. I have 2 Horseware Rhino blankets that I’ve had for 20 years each. They have some minor repairs, but they’re in FANTASTIC shape for their age. (I sent my pictures to Horseware, but they never responded L ) As a result, I haven’t had to replace those particular blankets. I spent more money at the outset, but I haven’t had to replace blankets every 2-3 years, or sooner, like many of my friends and barnmates. I sold my first saddle for $200 more than I paid for it new, 5 years later. I also have the first bridle I ever owned. I bought it used from a friend for $20, including the bit. I still have it 20+ years later. When clean and condition and oil your leather, it won’t dry out and break. It will stay in usable condition for years to come. Better to reuse than the carbon footprint to buy new.
- Those arena lights use up a lot of electricity. Turn on only as many as you need, and turn them off right away when you’re done. Use LED of CFL bulbs in the rest of the barn. For that matter, if you design the barn with lots of natural light and windows, you won’t have to use lights as much. So many barns are super dark.
- Keep the barn clean. Not just sweeping the aisles. Hang things neatly, put things away, clear off the dust, and for the love of pete, get rid of the cob webs! The air will be healthier, the barn will look better, and you’ll reduce your fire risk. (I’m pretty passionate about fire safety!)
- Walk when you can. We have some horses that live out that we have to haul hay out to in the winter. It’s not very practical to walk a bale of hay out to them, so we tend to drive the Kubota. But if we just need to take some hay to the paddocks next to the barn, we can pull a wheelbarrow.
- I have ambitions of having a rain barrel at the barn. We don’t have one at the barn I board at, but it can come in handy for lots of tasks at the barn, including cleaning. For now, when I clean buckets, I use a little bit of water that’s left in the bucket (our horses don’t usually make a big mess in water buckets) to scrub the sides of the bucket.
- The kids and I have plans to have a memorial garden for my sweet BooBoo when we buy a farm. We’re hoping to plant a few apple trees in the garden to treat the horses. Fewer store bought treats, less packaging, and the tree cleans the air.
What do you do to reduce your footprint at the barn?