California Riding Magazine • May, 2008

What “Green” Means
Building an environmentally friendly equestrian facility is a comprehensive process.

by Allison Mouch, Equestrian Services, LLC

The real estate world has acknowledged that more environmentally-friendly properties are a trend that is here to stay. The desire for unique and different amenities, coupled with the desire for more “green” facilities overall, has caused many developers and builders to turn their attention to equestrian amenities.

As equestrian amenities become more popular at communities and resorts worldwide, developers are discovering that a truly green equestrian amenity involves a comprehensive approach from beginning to end. This includes effective land planning decisions guiding where an equestrian facility might best be located, on-site design decisions working within the context of existing ecosystems and including LEED certified design and construction that supports more sustainable operations and best management practices. (Sustainable design includes many aspects, but one of the most important attributes is environmentally-sensitive practices.)

Where a facility is located is the first step in developing a sustainable amenity. If an equestrian facility (and its associated community) is located far away from existing development, the environmental costs of transit, waste disposal and access to resources outweigh the green benefits of developing an equestrian facility. Finding ways to balance a “new ruralist” lifestyle with current smart growth techniques is one way an equestrian community and its associated facility can become a steward of the environment.

Once a site has been chosen that meets sustainable land use requirements, consideration should be given to regional issues, existing land cover, topography and location of wetlands and sensitive natural areas. Development with respect to the existing landscape and ecosystems is key to sustainability. The location of your barn and covered arena, ancillary structures and pasture should always reflect the existing natural conditions of the site. A sustainable facility works with the existing landscape, not against it.

A green equestrian facility should take into consideration stormwater management, on-site hay production and manure compositing. 

Multi-Pronged Effort

Stormwater management is one of a few ways to mitigate the environmental impact of an equestrian facility. Techniques include pervious pavement options instead of asphalt or concrete, using bioswales to retain and filter stormwater before returning it to the ground, installing intensive green roofs to minimize run-off or a graywater catchments system to collect water for pasture or arena application.

Conserving land for on-site hay production is yet another way an equestrian center can operate sustainably, especially as weather extremities and ongoing land loss threaten existing hay supplies nationwide. Manure management continues to be a buzzword in the equestrian community, and on-site composting techniques are becoming more popular and easier for large-scale equestrian facilities to implement.

While standards for sustainable barn design currently do not exist, many of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED recommendations can be applied to barn design and construction. Green roofs are highly beneficial for on-site mitigation of stormwater, and most barns consistently address natural lighting and ventilation concerns identified in the LEED for New Construction Program. The LEED Green Building Rating System™ is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. Utilizing existing standards in the design, construction and material selection of an equestrian facility is imperative when aspiring to create a truly green amenity.

Equestrian facilities bring an advantage to developers seeking to promote sustainable land use and construction practices nationwide. However, to be genuinely green, no single item listed above is enough. It is a beginning. Sustainability is a thorough process, beginning with land use, site development choices, natural systems, green building design and well-managed site operations. A green equestrian facility looks at how each step influences the next, and how a comprehensive approach produces superior results for horse, rider and the environment both enjoy. Implementing any one of these measures is a good start, however, and it will lead our communities down a more marketable and sustainable path.

This article is reprinted with permission from Equestrian Services LLC. Author Allison Mouch is an equine land planner for Equestrian Services, LLC (Charlottesville, VA), which is setting the standards for planning, designing and managing equestrian amenities for resorts and communities worldwide.