Climate change is something that the world is talking about. There is clear evidence of the effects that this is having on various industries. Not only that, but the planet itself is suffering due to the changing weather. As a result, many countries have vowed to alter their ways, trying to reduce their carbon footprints.
Businesses have changed the way they work to tackle this as well. Certain changes have also taken place within the horse racing world. Although it remains as the third largest water consumer in the UK leisure industry. Why is this? What is the sector using this water on?
We’re going to delve deeper into the reasons why the industry uses so much water. Here, we will look at what it uses the water for. Plus, we want to know if any adjustments have taken place as a way of sustaining the sector. It is, in fact, utilised in many areas of the horse racing sphere. It counts for a large amount of water usage due to the various areas that need it.
British Horseracing Sustainability Report
In June of 2022, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) released a report on sustainability. This highlighted various areas where change could or is being made. It touched on the topic of water availability and extreme weather in the UK and beyond.
Without a doubt, there is a link between climate change and this extreme weather. Over the past 20 years, the UK has had nine of its warmest and driest years on record. At the same time, more heavy rainfall has increased the risk of flooding. Storm Franklin caused widespread chaos in February of last year. That was only one of several storms that battered the country.
Water is central to the horse racing sector’s day-to-day operations, too. With the increase in temperature due to climate change, there is an added pressure on water supplies. It is already clear that action should be undertaken to reduce the risk of water shortages. That relates both to supply and demand.
Of course, heavy rain can often result in waterlogging and flash flooding. Businesses need to know how to safeguard their operations in such times. Plus, there has to be a certain level of consideration on the horses themselves. Increasing temperatures can be an issue. Horses may not have adequate time to acclimatise to the heat. Equine diseases may also be a lot more present in higher temperatures.
Irrigation for the Safety of Racing
It could be true to say that the biggest amount of water usage goes on irrigating racing tracks. The purpose of this is to maintain moisture levels in the ground. Good turf is vital for races to achieve the best level of resilience. Furthermore, it has to be suitable for the horses racing on it, as well as their general welfare. To irrigate the tracks, racecourse executives invest in specific systems. They apply water consistency to the tracks across the United Kingdom.
When you consider the vast number of racecourses in the UK (59), that’s a lot of water. Yet if these courses did not irrigate their track, it would affect the quality of it. This would have a knock-on effect, meaning the abandonment of more fixtures. Field sizes would also decrease and it would compromise the welfare of the runners.
The majority of racecourses make use of a “boom irrigator”, which applies water to tracks. This is a metal bar that stretches out across the width of the track itself. Nozzles then distribute the water onto the course, ensuring an even covering occurs. The slower this boom moves, the more water it applies to the track.
Courses have, in the past, suffered from over-watering, though. Often times, this has been due to heavy rainfall, which has turned ideal turf into muddy terrain. Back in 2006, one of the hot topics of the summer was predicting course bias. Many complaints came forward from sports bettors and horse trainers/owners. Their complaint focused on courses over-watering, thus affecting race results.
In July of that year, the fixture at Newmarket was, according to some, ruined. This, they said, was due to the excessive use of water sprinklers. The complainants noted how runners on one side of the track had an advantage over others as a result. A belief began to build up that suggested racecourses made deliberate attempts to sabotage meetings. Through selective watering of specific parts of the track, they undermined draw biases. That was, of course, denied by the Horseracing Regulatory Authority (HRA).
It’s a difficult area to maintain, though. Weather forecasts may suggest rain is coming, but it’s not always the case. Plus, there may or may not be an appropriate amount of rain for tracks. Courses take it upon themselves to help out with artificial irrigating instead. It’s important for the courses to be safe for participants, but is it possible to scale it back? Doubtless, if it can, this would help with excessive water consumption.
Caring for the Horses
It’s also the case that horses competing in events need to taking care of. This means they need water to drink. Not only that, but it is common to see trainers pouring buckets of water over them after a race. That cools them down after the high-intensity racing. Horses, like humans, cool down by sweating. The evaporating water on their bodies has the same effect. Thus, water helps stop them from overheating, which is beneficial in higher temperatures.
It may surprise you to realise this is not ice-cold water or even standard tap cold. The water inside the bucket is warmish. It isn’t hot and it’s not shower warm, but it does have a tepidity to it, rather than being cold. That’s the same for the water that they receive to drink.
Endurance riders believe that this is the best way to cool down a horse – with lukewarm water. Then, scrape off the water, walk the horse around and soak with water again. Scrape it off for a second time, and this should be ideal. It is vital that cold water isn’t used, as it could cause a heart attack, according to experts.
Water is generally the most important nutrient provided for horses year-round. In comparison to other foodstuffs, horses need 2-3 times more water. If you were to take a 1,100-pound horse on a dry forage diet, it would need between 6 and 7 gallons of water per day. Many horses will, if left to their own devices, drink more water than the minimum, too.
The onset of cold weather can actually increase the need for water. Why? Because in these times, there is usually less fresh grass to consume (which provides water). The air is also very dry at that time of year.
Upkeep of horses is something that is necessary all year round. Yet it’s not only water for them to drink that they need. Food production and consumption requires water as well. It is also sometimes the case that water gets mixed with horse feed. If you consider the natural diet of a horse – grass and other forages – there is a high water content within.
What humans provide horses with can often be very different. Hay and concentrate feeds tend to lack in that same moisture level. A simple way of upping that moisture level is to include it in a horse’s food. That helps with horse hydration, but as a result, utilises extra water, too. Especially when you consider the number of horses trained for racing each year.
Regardless of if it’s in their food or not, horses need 24/7 access to clean drinking water. Racehorses especially need more, due to the fact that they have to run at top speeds. What they lose by sweating during such events needs replenishing.
While the majority of people see racehorses at various meets, they do exist outside of that world. Training grounds also need the same sort of maintenance to ensure the welfare of the horses. The stables where the horses generally live also need cleaning out. This should occur on a frequent basis, with hosepipes spraying down the stables. Horses need to live in healthy environments, which means sanitation is a must.
What Can Be Done to Control Water Consumption?
Like other industries, the horse racing sector has been conjuring up new methods of operating. Tackling excessive water consumption has been on the agenda for a while now. This is why several racecourses in the UK have access to on-site boreholes. These exist as wells to naturally occurring water. Reservoirs are also in use by some courses. In fact, one racecourse now draws 100% of its water from such sources, having no dependence on mains supply. Another is at 90% borehole usage.
Towards the end of 2022, a report surfaced on Taunton racecourse. In response to the cancellation of various meets due to hard ground, action is being taken. Chairman of the course, David Griffin, is working towards improving the watering facilities. He confirmed that new boreholes were being made, allowing reservoirs to fill up.
Those boreholes are being installed in the centre of the Taunton course. Griffin hoped that the reservoirs can fill up faster than the course can use the water within. As of October 2022, there were only two boreholes in use there. They take three days each to fill up. With extra reservoirs of water, less there will be less pressure on mains water.
Meanwhile, at Ascot, a circular water system has become useful. This harvests rainwater from the roof of the course, which feeds into the reservoir there. That. without a doubt, improves the self-sufficiency of the course. As a result, even in extreme periods of drought, Ascot has a plan in place to focus its watering on critical areas of the track.
One other introduction to the horse racing world is water saving technology. Indoor and outdoor water management systems are in-place at some courses. This includes water limiters within toilet cisterns when racing is not taking place. There is one training yard that is also installing automated waterers in stables. This reduces waste and helps with monitoring water usage at the same time.
The moves that the industry is taking and has taken are positive. Various barriers still stand in the way of controlling water consumption, though. The cost of changes to infrastructure, for example. It also takes a certain level of specialist knowledge to introduce new features of this nature. Some sites have held back from making changes because of this. Not only that, but some courses aren’t able to make such physical changes. That’s not because they don’t want to – it’s that they cannot. The layout of the land or the position of the course denies the possibility for boreholes etc.
It is also key to note that boreholes are also subject to Environment Agency oversight. As a result, there is the potential for restrictions on extraction. This is especially true in the case of high demand within the community.
Within the BHA report from 2022, it noted that 43% of survey respondents showed concern over water. In the long-term, the majority of people within the industry had little concern about it. Even fewer, 32%, expressed concern over flood risks.
Various plans of action remain in place, though. A study into water supply and usage at racecourses is taking place. Support should then be available to those sites most reliant on mains water. That is with the target of developing improved infrastructure. Extra research into the impact of extreme weather will also take place.