Climate change is a problem that the entire world faces. There isn’t a week that goes by without a news article popping up about it. Discussions occur around the globe between world leaders, talking about tackling the issue. Various stories continue to arise surrounding the threat of climate change, too.
One of the most recent involves the increase in domestic violence due to it. The Washington Post recently published an article on this. It said that escalating threats against women and girls are taking place. This, it put down to more frequent and intense extreme weather events. Make of that what you will.
It’s plain to see how different sectors are being affected by climate change. Even areas that don’t stand out as being likely victims are coming to the fore. The horse racing industry is one such area where changes may need to take place. How will it be possible for horse racing to adapt to climate change? What are the issues the sport faces?
Here, we’ll be taking a look at the different climate obstacles affecting horse racing and we want to know about the possible solutions to ensure it continues.
Change is Necessary
Many people don’t like change. They don’t want to adapt to new surroundings and scenarios. For many, it’s easier and a lot more comfortable to stay in the same lane. Yet it is vital that change takes place in some environments. That much is a big truth when it comes to the horse racing sector and climate change.
Horse racing is a very traditional sport but a modern industry-wide approach is necessary to be able to mitigate the risks of climate change. That became clear with the publication of a report in 2022 from the racing industry. Through this, a review of infrastructure at racecourses came to light as a necessity to help the industry tackle extreme weather events.
The study, produced by White Griffin, also looked at sustainability issues. This focused on carbon emissions, waste disposal and supply chain management. It may surprise some people, but racing is actually the third largest water consumer in the leisure industry of the UK. In June of 2022, British horseracing officials stated that they are keen to tackle issues. This included equipping racecourses with the ability to efficiently use water. The protection and wellbeing of horses and jockeys was also noted.
Between 2017 and 2019, the abandonment of 91 racing fixtures took place due to waterlogging issues. Within that same period, 14 ended up lost to hard ground that increased the risk of flooding. As a result of these problems, the horse racing sector took a significant financial impact. The report linked extreme weather events with climate change and highlighted the need for the sector to make strategic plans for the future.
This included the following recommendations:
- Take a planned and strategic approach to sustainability
- Embed a leadership culture throughout the industry
- Encourage industry-wide measuring, monitoring and reporting
- Create a robust funding framework
- Seek to standardise knowledge and encourage collaboration
- Prioritise communication, engagement and education
In the UK, nine of the hottest and driest years on record have occurred in the last 20 years. Heavy rainfall on hard ground after this can result in deadly flash flooding. Some racecourses have taken the initiative to install flood defences. Yet there is a vast expense involved with these measures.
The report suggests horse racing should take a “centralised approach”. In doing so, it would support the courses most at risk when it comes to flooding. Courses such as those at Huntingdon, Southwell and Worcester stand out as a primary concern. All have suffered the ill-effects of extreme weather in recent times.
The summer of 2022 in the UK was one of the hottest recorded, too and demands on water supply increased in a significant way. All racecourses had committed to responsible water use by that time. Yet further reviews into accessing boreholes and reservoirs need to take place. This would allow them to utilise natural water supplies to reduce water consumption. It could also prepare them for droughts.
Water sustainability is something that various racecourses have tackled. Ascot, for example, created a circular water system. This harvests rainwater from the rood and feeds it into the reservoir and will hopefully make them self-sufficient when it comes to water.
It’s Not Just About the Courses
Tackling the issues at racecourses is one thing but there is also a need to address the impact of climate change on the horses themselves. Adapting modes of transport could be a necessity. As summer temperatures continue to increase, horse boxes need to be appropriate. This means that government proposals could see air conditioning required inside. Should temperatures exceed 30 degrees in future, this could very well become the norm.
Also, the report highlighted carbon emissions. Horse racing has quite the heavy reliance on fossil fuels for transportation but the idea is to phase fossil fuel use out altogether, replacing them with cleaner energy. The World Resources Institute created its own advice on this in 2019. It provided four different ways to shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energy. That advice included putting a price on carbon and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies. It also highlighted the need to step up investment in energy efficiency. Conditions for phasing out coal were also explained.
The only insight into tackling waste from race meets was that it is under review. There is a definite need to reduce and drop single-use plastics altogether. Non-recyclable waste and solid waste are also areas that need to adapt to this era. As things stand, 16 racecourses across the UK had banned single-use plastic items by June 2022. It also the intent to replace the 160 miles of plastic railings at racecourses. Recyclable versions created from 80% recyclable material will take its place.
Going Green Will Help
With the release of the report, going green was also highlighted as having huge potential. Ruth Dancer, director at sustainability consultancy for White Griffin, gave voice to it. She said that it will future-proof the equestrian world in a financial way. Not only that, but it has environmental benefits. Furthermore, more younger people will find horse sport more inviting.
Speaking from Newbury Racecourse on June 30, 2022, Dancer said sustainability is crucial. Not only for the equestrian world, but for the planet in general.
“This isn’t a silver bullet, but my goodness, this will help you, because the younger generation are so active in this area. You may say, ‘Yes, but not the horsey ones’ – yes, the horsey ones, and the ones not into horses, who you want to be into horses, coming to your racecourses, and owning and investing in racehorses”.
One of her main focuses centred on the aforementioned fossil fuels. Not only did she bring up the transportation of horses, but on the travel habits of jockeys, too. A figure of 40,000 miles a year each came to light, thanks to Dancer. Plus, supporters of horse racing arriving in throngs in their cars. There is also the energy used for infrastructure, machinery and equipment. All these areas currently utilise fossil fuels, contributing to a large carbon footprint.
“Doing further research into the impact of climate change and particularly correlating it to equine welfare is very important”, said Dancer. She went on to urge everyone to look at the differences they can make. Again, water availability and extreme weather conditions stood as principal issues.
Climate Change Affecting Horses
Whatever you believe climate change is a result of, the fact remains that the climate is changing. Models show that the agricultural regions in Canada are likely to see drier summers. That’s from east coast to west coast. At the same time, increased precipitation is likely in winter and spring and so farmers may have to deal with too much water during te seeding season. Alongside that, too little water may be available in the growing season. It is also possible for short-lived but still intense rainfall events to occur.
Because of the issues surrounding the growth of crops, hay and grain prices are surging. That’s not something specific to Canada, but across the globe. Conditions had remained too dry in Canada in 2019 to produce a first cut and some horse owners were without as much winter forage. They couldn’t afford to replace that, even if a supplier was available. While farmers usually have plans for uncertain periods, climate change brings new extremes.
Horses also have to adapt to their environment, as all living things do. Yet there are two large threats to breeding and keeping horses healthy. The increase in susceptibility to infectious diseases is one of them. Complications of reproduction because of environmental factors is the other.
The weather brings hotter summers, wetter winters, severe storms bringing floods etc. Horses can suffer from overheating or heat-exhaustion-related illness. The need for more water and shade become very evident during summer months. The availability of good-quality, fresh forage may also end up compromised, too.
Colder and/or wetter winters mean adequate shelter is necessary for longer timeframes. This negates any natural foraging for the horses making their diet is completely dependent on human provision. In winter, horses need high-fibre, high-calorie diets to keep a proper body temperature. Torrential flooding offers its own self-explanatory problems, too.
The Time Has Come to Face Climate Change
While climate change is not something that only affects horse racing, it does have an impact. In October of 2021, the chair of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) warned the industry. Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said that it needs to tackle climate change now. During his keynote speech, which occurred virtually due to COVID-19 rules, he spoke of the issues.
“Climate change is a topic that has yet to be properly examined in a holistic way by the racing industry. The time has now come for racing to fully commit to addressing the challenge of climate change”.
His speech may have taken place over a year ago, but the words remain true. Many racing events across Britain and Ireland were called off in the run-up to Christmas 2022. Freezing cold temperatures caused chaos with the racecourses after snowfall. Hopes remained high for Lingfield and Chelmsford at one point. Yet they too soon called off the races scheduled for December 17. Cancellations occurred a few days before for Haydock, Ascot, and others.
Earlier on in the year during the summer heatwave, the cancellation of five races occurred. The news came about on July 15 about the meetings. This affected races at Beverley, Windsor, Chelmsford City, Southwell and Wolverhampton. With the forecast saying temperatures could reach 40 degrees, the Met office issued warnings. The racecourses fell within the warning areas, leading to the cancellations. It stands as a stark reminder of two very different climates during the year. Both of them affected horse racing in a negative way.
The industry-response to climate change has to be multi-faceted, said Engelbrecht-Bresges. The IFHA created a dedicated committee for sustainability and climate change. He spoke of anticipating threats to the membership from world climate issues. For this, effective solutions needed to be found, he commented.
Yet the chairman also spared a thought for the jockeys as well. “The welfare of our human athletes is equally important if racing is to remain a viable pathway…”, he said. The protection of their physical and mental health is a primary factor.