New research, “Sustainable horse feeding management in the Netherlands: how to minimize environmental impacts”

In this blog we’ll look outside of Sweden to the Netherlands and a very interesting research program on horse feeding management, led by a very experienced veterinarian and researcher, Gülsah Kaya-Karasu. Even if the agricultural practices and status differs between Sweden and the Netherlands there is a lot, we can learn from each other since the fundamentals are the same. Gülsah kindly answered a few questions about her work.

Gülsah Kaya – Karasu “I want to help horse owners understand how nutrition plays a vital role in the health and well-being of their horses.” (read more about her background at the end of the blog.)

The research is done at Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences that has a special focus on sustainability. VHL train high-quality, ambitious and innovative professionals who contribute to a more sustainable world. Alongside Bachelor programmes, also provide Master’s programmes, Certificate programmes and short courses for regional, national and international students. (read more about the University at the end of the blog).

The title of your research is ”Sustainable horse feeding management in the Netherlands: how to minimize environmental impacts”

What is the aim of your research? How will it be done? Why is it needed?

Circular agriculture is a sustainable answer to the challenges putting pressure on all stakeholders in the agricultural sector, including the equine sector. There are currently 450,000 horses in the Netherlands, and 6 million horses in Europe and, as the sector grows, the equestrian community’s responsibility to contribute to sustainable development increases, since their impact on the environment is greater than often thought.

The feeding management of horses has a great impact on circular agriculture. Free-living horses graze on roughage for 14-18 hours a day. Today, many pastures are planted with grass for hay growing or grazing. However, the most common roughage – may cause negative environmental impacts, including topsoil erosion, ingestion of pesticides and herbicides by horses, and pollution of water sources. Furthermore, horse grazing can have different impacts on land and plant biodiversity.

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The diet of most horses also includes various concentrate feeds and supplements. However, horse feeds have an impact on the environment through the raw materials, CO2 emissions, production process and packaging. For example, many common raw materials used in horse feed are related to high CO2 coefficients, and soybeans pose challenges since hazardous pesticides are still used in farming.

In the Netherlands, there are 450,000 horses, each producing around 7 tons of phosphate and nitrogen rich manure per year, or approximately 3,150,000 tons annually. An oversupply of minerals from supplements in horse diets, with possible interactions and interferences, are excreted in manure and can have a potentially negative impact on the agricultural cycle.

Circular agriculture is an excellent principle, but much work needs to be done before it can become common practice in the equine sector. In the Netherlands, diversification in this sector is growing, and the professional equine field is facing increasing pressure to demonstrate environmentally sound horse feeding management practices and horse owners are becoming more aware of the need to manage their horses and the land on which they live in a sustainable manner.

Horses should be provided with a predominantly fibrebased diet in order to mimic their natural feeding pattern, however grazing impacts pasture differently, with a risk of overgrazing and soil erosion in equine pastures. Additionally, most horses receive supplements not only with concentrates and oils, but also with minerals. Though the excess minerals are excreted in the manure of horses, these minerals can accumulate in the soil or leach to nearby waterways and pollute water resources.

Therefore, the research aims to answer the main question, “What horse feeding practices and measurements are needed to reduce and prevent environmental pollution in the Netherlands?” The research is composed of two components;

  • a broad survey-based study which will generate quantitative data on horse feeding management and will also obtain qualitative data on the owners’ engagement or willingness of horse owners to act sustainably.
  • Secondly, a field study will involve the collection of detailed data via visits to horse stables in order to gather data for nutritional analysis and to collect fecal samples for mineral analysis.

Students, lecturers and partners will actively participate in all phases of the planned research. This research facilitates learning and intends to develop a footprint calculator for sustainable horse feeding to encompass the complexity of the equine sector.

Any message for the Swedish Equestrian community?

Sustainability is what the world needs to focus on now. Sustainable horse feeding is an important issue not only for the Netherlands, but for everywhere in the world. Sweden has about 360,000 horses, which is a very significant number like Netherlands. I believe that the results of the research will provide developments in the Sweden equestrian industry to feed horses more sustainable as in all other countries.

When will we know the results?

The project runs during 2022 – 2024 and we’ll get back to you on the results!

Bio, Gülsah Kaya – Karasu

She has graduated from Istanbul University Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in 2004. During her student years, she determined her area of ​​interest as horse nutrition and conducted her internship at Liverpool University Leehurst Equine hospital, UK. In 2008, she received the title of doctor with the thesis titled “colic risk factors in horses in Austria” at the Vienna Veterinary University, Austria. Her doctoral dissertation was awarded with the Von Firks Stipendium, a major science award, and she became the first and only person to qualify for this award on the field of horse nutrition. In 2016, she received five certificates from Liverpool University in the fields of equine digestive system and practical equine medicine. After her doctoral studies, she continued her career internationally, such as America Blueridge Horse Hospital, Glasgow University. She became an Assistant Prof at Istanbul Aydın University.

With the ECVCN-European Union Clinical Nutrition Diplomacy program, she managed to carry her knowledge and experiences in the field of horse nutrition to a higher level with the trainings she received from the world’s leading horse nutrition experts. She has provided technical consultancy to the world’s leading horse feed companies in the international market. Furthermore, Dr. Karasu’s interesting articles continue to be published in the Equus Horse Magazine of the United States of America and other equine magazines. She is an owner of AGG Equine Nutrition Consulting with nearly 15 years of experience in the field of horse nutrition, mainly in the field of race horse nutrition, foal breeding, colic nutrition from clinical nutrition areas in horses, stomach ulcer, insulin resistance, skeletal system diseases, myopathy, laminitis, and respiratory system disorders.

She works as a lecturer and researcher at the Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands since almost 3 years. Very recently her project regarding “Sustainable horse feeding management in the Netherlands: how to minimize environmental impacts” is funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), Taskforce for Applied Research SIA, for the duration of 2 years. Besides that she still conducts equine based research and provides consultancy services. Her company webpage.

Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences

VHL has been rated the most sustainable University of Applied Sciences! Our University of Applied Sciences is the only institution in the Netherlands that has received three AISHE stars for all of its bachelor programmes (for all thirteen programmes). AISHE (Auditing Instrument for Sustainability in Higher Education) is an assessment tool for sustainable developments in higher education. A positive assessment leads to a qualification for Sustainable Higher Education.

VHL train high-quality, ambitious and innovative professionals who contribute to a more sustainable world. Alongside Bachelor programmes, also provide Master’s programmes, Certificate programmes and short courses for regional, national and international students.

In our mission, we state as VHL that we aim to train professionals who contribute to a sustainable and better world. We wish to accomplish this by cooperating in a pleasant and yet productive way with each other and with our network partners. These two ambitions have been translated into the way we have outlined our education, our applied research and our organisation. VHL about us & mission.  

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