Educating horse owners about how to protect the state’s water resources is the focus of recent efforts by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The department released a 40-page booklet of best management practices that target small-scale horse operations. Small-time owners include those with anywhere from one to 15 horses.
Tom Frick, the department’s director for the division of environmental assessment and restoration, said this booklet aims to educate horse owners on how their establishments can impact Florida’s water.
He said the department decided to release the booklet because small-scale operations are capable of introducing the same types of issues to water resources as large operations.
The booklet explains the three main ways horses can pollute and impact water resources that include excess nutrients, bacteria, and sedimentation and erosion.
Common causes of water quality decline include an overabundance of excess nutrients, such as phosphorous and nitrogen. Phosphorous can be found in horse manure, soaps and fertilizer.
Some bacteria found in horse manure can contaminate the water through contact. This issue can contribute to health issues for both people and animals.
Horses overgrazing in certain areas leads to erosion. This erosion can result in sedimentation where lakes, streams and rivers can be clogged by sediment.
Tiffany Cowie, the press secretary for the FDEP, said in an email that this is the first time the department has put together a booklet including best management practices for small-scale operations.
While no official count of horses exists for Florida, Frick said the department estimates there are more than half a million horses throughout the state. This number includes the large-scale commercial operations, as well as the communities or areas where many individuals own horses, including the rural areas of North Central Florida.
Frick said that while the large scale operations typically fall under the regulatory programs of either the Florida Department of Environmental Protection or the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, there is a large number of individual homeowners and communities that are not held to the same standards.
In addition to addressing problem areas, the booklet also includes information for how to evaluate a farm, store and compost manure, manage pastures and ways to control erosion.
Frick said the FDEP collaborates with local governments and university or county extension officers to host different events to educate owners. About 12,000 copies were distributed to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) county extension offices.
Eric Simonne, the Northeast district extension director for IFAS, said the organization is involved because it partners with the FDEP to educate different segments of the agriculture industry on best practices and other information. He said in this instance, it’s IFAS’s role to let the horse owners know that the manual exists, as well as to educate them about ways to employ the practices on their own farms.
Frick said this booklet was derived from many of the practices that were adopted and are currently in place by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services regulations for commercial horse operations.
“We took those best practices, and we put them in an education mode,” he said.
Horse owner Bill Harden, of Anthony, Florida, said educating horse owners on practices to reduce runoff to help protect the water is important. Harden also works as a farrier, a position that entails putting the shoes on horses.
While he said he would not like being forced into doing something on his own property, he appreciates having the manual as an educational tool.
“If someone has a better idea than what is already here, and they could show me some viable evidence that it does work and it is feasible for what we do…I’m all for it,” Harden said.