O ur environment contains a variety of
plants, animals and aquatic life. Each species
has a unique role within the environment, and,
Protect Your Water
Clean water is vital for the good health of you
and your horses. Your land and horse
as a result, each relies on the other for survival.
management practices can influence the quality
Maintaining such biodiversity is essential for
of water available not only to you, but also to
creating a healthy environment that is capable
your neighbours. Even if you do not live near a
of sustaining all species that live within it. The
stream or lake, you can affect water quality.
more diverse the ecosystem, the better it is able
to respond to changes or stresses, such as floods,
drought, pests and disease. Nature’s Drain Pipe: The
You can help create and maintain a sustainable Watershed
environment by modifying some of your land Water initiates from springs, rainfall or
and horse management practices. The benefits snowmelt, and it runs downhill or underground
of ecosystem management will be reflected in until it eventually reaches the ocean. An area of
more productive pastures, clean water, fertile land that catches rain and snow and then drains
soils, and better overall health of your horses. or seeps into surface waters (i.e. creeks, streams,
This chapter outlines and describes some key rivers, lakes or wetlands) or groundwater is
areas where your horse management practices called a watershed.
may affect the environment and what you can do Essentially, we all live in a watershed, which
to minimize these effects. means everyone has an affect on water quality.
As a landowner, you have a responsibility to
maintain or improve the quality of the water
that leaves your property.
Figure 1. Prevent water pollution by diverting runoff from rain and snowmelt around manure
storage areas, corrals, riding rings or other areas manure accumulates.
Have you ever followed surface runoff as it The Watershed
flows across your land? Where does it go? Does
it flow through your corrals, pasture or manure
pile? Surface and groundwater can be Many Alberta communities are taking a
contaminated if runoff is allowed to run through “Watershed Approach” towards environmental
corrals, riding rings and other areas either land stewardship. This approach takes into
where manure is not regularly removed or consideration both ground and surface water
where manure is stored (Figure 1). flow within a particular watershed. If you are
interested in learning more about your
watershed, the publication Getting to Know Your
Tips for Maintaining Local Watershed (Agdex 576-8) is available from
• install rain gutters and roof runoff systems
Nature’s Water Filter:
on barns and covered arenas Riparian Areas
• create diversion berms to divert storm Riparian refers to the land immediately
runoff around corrals and other surrounding waterways and other surface water.
confinement areas Riparian areas are defined as the zone of
vegetation alongside creeks, streams, rivers,
• create catch basins for contaminated
lakes and wetlands.
Riparian areas support high levels of
biodiversity. The combination of deep rich soils,
water and lush vegetation provides food, shelter
and breeding grounds for many plants, animals
and aquatic life. In fact, approximately 80 per
cent of the province’s wildlife use riparian areas
for all or part of their life cycle.
In addition to housing a diverse population of Riparian Management
plants and animals, healthy riparian areas
provide the following benefits:
• Use alternative watering sources to keep your
• buffer the negative effects of floods and winds
horses away from the water’s edge and reduce
by reducing soil erosion
trampling of the vegetation.
• filter sediments and nutrients from runoff
• Provide salt, supplemental feed and an
before they enter water sources
alternative water source away from riparian
• riparian vegetation provides shading in the areas. These practices will decrease the amount
summer months and helps prevent ice damage of time your horses spend in the riparian area
in the winter and will reduce the risk of water contamination.
• reduce drought effects by holding and slowly • Fence off access to riparian areas with either
releasing available water permanent or temporary fencing. This barrier
While riparian areas are highly diverse and creates a vegetative buffer zone between the
function to improve water flow and quality, they water’s edge and the pasture, which provides a
are also very sensitive and can easily be natural filter for contaminated pasture runoff.
disturbed or destroyed by grazing animals • If you allow your horses to graze riparian areas,
(Figure 2). If you allow your horses to graze turn them out for short periods to prevent
riparian areas, watch for signs that they are overuse and trampling of the area. One option
causing damage. Signs of damage to riparian is to include the riparian area in your rotational
areas include: grazing program. For more information on
• reduction in number of saplings (i.e. young grazing management, refer to the chapter
trees and shrubs) “Better Management of Your Horse’s Pasture”
in this manual.
• reduction in plant height resulting in
vegetation cover that resembles a mowed • Avoid grazing riparian areas during the spring
lawn when the vegetation is more vulnerable to
• evidence of pugging (hoof tracks left in soft
soil) and hummocking (soil that has been • For additional information on riparian area
pushed up by pugging) management, refer to the publication, “Caring
for the Green Zone: Riparian Areas: A User’s
Guide to Health” (ISBN No. 0-7785-2305-5)
available from the Public Lands Branch of
Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.
Figure 2. Riparian areas are highly diverse and fragile. They can easily be damaged by grazing
animals. Use riparian areas for short durations to reduce grazing impact.
to enhance soil structure and protect soil from
erosion. Maintaining a healthy vegetative cover
in your pasture will protect the soil from both
erosion and compaction.
Tips for Preventing Soil
Erosion and Compaction
Plant a Shelter Belt
A shelter belt is a row of trees or tall shrubs that
act to capture blowing soil. Trees with a deep
root system will bind soil aggregates better than
shallow-rooted trees. Agriculture and Agri-Food
Canada, Prairie Farm Rehabilitation
Administration (PFRA), has a shelter belt
program. For information on planting suitable
shelter belts, contact your local PFRA office, or
visit their website: www.agr.ca/pfra
Understand the Topography
Understand the landscape of your property and
Figure 3. Bare patches leave your pasture vulnerable to soil erosion be aware of the drainage patterns on your land
as well as on neighbouring lands. Protect areas
Healthy Soil = Healthy of high runoff with vegetation cover. In some
cases, it may be necessary to remove horses
Plants from an area entirely if the area is susceptible to
Plants obtain the nutrients they need for growth water erosion.
from the soil. Therefore, to have a productive
Adjust Stocking Rates
pasture, you need to maintain healthy soil.
Do not turn out more horses than your pasture
Bare patches in your pasture and other areas can support (i.e. overstocking) and do not allow
that lack vegetative cover are vulnerable to soil horses to graze plants down to the soil (i.e.
erosion by wind or water (Figure 3). Erosion overgrazing). Overstocking and overgrazing not
removes valuable topsoil, which is where most only compact soil and cause erosion, they also
soil nutrients are found. Therefore, erosion can severely reduce your pasture productivity.
severely deplete soil fertility levels and starve
Practice Rotational Grazing
pasture plants of nutrients needed for growth.
Season-long grazing can reduce plant vigour and
The health of your pasture can also be adversely plant cover, resulting in a decline in pasture
affected by soil compaction. Soil will often productivity. Cross-fence large pastures into
become compacted in high traffic areas, such as smaller paddocks and rotate your horses
near gates, along fencelines and on paths to and between the paddocks. This type of grazing
from water sources. There is also a risk of soil management gives each pasture a periodic rest
compaction in areas where horses loiter from grazing and gives plants a chance to grow.
throughout the day, such as around feed bunks, For additional information on grazing systems,
water tanks and in shady areas. Overuse of such refer to the chapter “Better Management of
areas destroys plant cover and compacts the soil, Your Horse’s Pasture” in this manual.
reducing air and water infiltration as well as Alter Grazing Patterns
increasing the risk of soil erosion. Change the location of your water source, feed
While the health of the soil is important to the bunks and salt blocks regularly to reduce the
health of a plant, the reverse is also true: a formation of dirt trails and to minimize the
healthy plant is essential for a healthy soil. The effect on areas where horses loiter.
roots of plants aerate and provide organic
matter and nutrients to the soil. Roots also act
Does your pasture appear to have more weeds
than lush pasture grasses? A sure sign of stress
to the land is the appearance of invasive weeds
coupled with a reduction in the regrowth of
desirable vegetation. Riding in the
Weeds invade areas that have been denuded of back-country
vegetation because bare soil provides an Trail riding in
ecological niche to exploit. The increase in Alberta’s beautiful
available nutrients, water and sunlight as a and breathtaking
result of a reduction in plant canopy cover countryside is a
popular getaway for
provides an ideal environment for weeds to
establish. Areas in your pasture that should be However, many areas
checked for weeds frequently include handling across the province
areas, watering sites, along fencelines and are extremely
around winter feeding areas. Weeds also invade sensitive to hoof
pastures that have been overgrazed. tread, grazing and
You may not realize that you have invasive manure.
weeds. Some weed species produce attractive
flowers that are pleasant to look at Whether you are at
(Figures 4 and 5). However, weeds are home or on holidays
Figure 5. Yellow toadflax is an aggressive
with your horses, it is
considered undesirable plants with limited or no invader of pasture land. Toadflax has an
extensive root system that makes it difficult and important to be
grazing value. Some weeds may even be harmful
costly to erradicate. environmentally
if eaten by your horse. responsible. The
following are tips to
Leaving weed infestations unchecked will reduce your impact
decrease the overall productivity of your while enjoying the
pasture, reducing the amount of nutritious back-country:
forage available to your horse.
• camp in designated
Weed eradication can also be expensive. staging areas only
Pastures may have to be taken out of production • take only weed-free
to allow time for an intense weed eradication feed for your
program. Loss of a pasture means the added horses
expense of supplying your horse with • take out what you
supplemental feed, which can be particularly bring in (i.e. all
hard on the pocketbook during times of drought garbage, spare
or feed shortages. And depending on the weed feed, manure, etc.)
species to be sprayed and the size of the • stay on the trails
affected area, herbicide cost must be factored in • avoid riding near
to the overall expense. the edge of stream
Early detection and early treatment is the best trail wear can make
approach for preventing large scale weed stream banks
infestations. For more information on weed unstable and can
identification and eradication, see the Alberta lead to erosion
during times of
Agriculture publications Weeds of the Prairies
(Agdex 640-4) and Crop Protection
Figure 4. Purple loosestrife was introduced to
Alberta as a garden ornamental because of its
attractive rose-purple flowers. Purple loosestrife
chokes out waterways and the native vegetation in
Be a Good Neighbour The
As a horse owner, your land management Bottom
decisions not only affect your property, but also Line
the adjoining landscape. It is your responsibility,
• Protect water quality by
then, to keep updated on municipal bylaws to
installing rain gutters on
avoid an issue from arising among you, your
buildings, diverting storm
neighbours and your local government.
runoff away from corrals and manure storage
Taking the initiative to become a good sites and limiting your horse’s access to
neighbour can prevent potential tension in the riparian areas.
community. Beneficial environmental practices • Prevent soil erosion and compaction by
will decrease unwanted odours and pests and maintaining productive pastures and
will reduce the spread of weed species. By periodically rotating feeding and watering
demonstrating responsible agricultural practices sites.
with your land and horses, you can help
• Detect and treat weed invasions early before
everyone enjoy rural Alberta.
they spread and reduce pasture quality.
To maintain good neighbour relations: • Set an example in your community and in the
• maintain healthy pastures and riparian areas province by practicing responsible land
• control weed populations stewardship.
• properly store and dispose of manure
• properly store and remove garbage