Editorial: There is Nothing ‘Green’ About the FEI

Photo by Alissa King

Earlier today, the FEI – the governing body of international equestrian sport – shared a press release announcing their pledge to sustainability and how they’ve worked toward making a greener sport.

“Equestrian sport is one of the most interested in conserving the environment because we are a truly global, Olympic and Paralympic sport that is in constant contact with our outstanding ambassador of nature – the horse,” FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez said.

“Not only does equestrian sport promote excellent social values, but it is also innovating and carrying further sustainable value to increase European mobility, promote green events, popular events and new educative programmes, and creating new fans”, MEP Hilde Vautmans said. “As such, equestrian sport perfectly meets today’s values of welfare, social coherence and sustainability.”

And how does the FEI plan to meet these green initiatives? Supposedly, by making their headquarters in Switzerland “green certified”.

“Greening” an office which houses less than 100 employees and claiming to be committed to sustainable values is one of the most appallingly laughable proclamations I’ve heard in awhile, and in a year as bizarre as 2017, that’s saying something.

The FEI has continually pushed, funded, and approved events year round which require FEI riders to fly themselves and their horses around the world to qualify for and then participate in international events – with complete disregard for minimizing the amount of air travel.

Why does this matter? Take this statistic from the New York Times: One direct, round-trip flight between Los Angeles and New York generates 20% of the greenhouse gas that the average car emits over an entire year. 

What gives air travel such a huge carbon footprint? Partly it’s the amount of fuel expended for every flight, but it’s also the emission of heat, particulates, and burned gases entering the atmosphere. All the data that we could find on aircraft and sustainability was focused primarily on per-passenger exhaust, but just imagine what the statistics are for horse freight.

One study by the World Bank says that just traveling in business class instead of in coach can contribute to as much as three times the carbon emissions, so just imagine what the impact is of freight space for a 2,000 pound horse and all their gear.

Not to mention grooms, officials, spectators and yes, even members of the press flying to cover the event.

Next, there’s the truck shipping from each airport and to the venue. With most hauling trucks and semis getting around 8-15 miles per gallon and an average of 150 horses at each FEI show jumping event and maybe hauling 5-15 horses at a time, that’s no small matter.

Add in all the plastic water bottles that are carelessly tossed at an event, people driving to the venue (which often aren’t accessible by public transit), the cheap free swag made in China that’s ultimately usually thrown away, the manure/bedding disposal, the unused feed, the arena watering, and the thousands of sheets of paper, posters, and programs produced over a five-day period, and the environmental impact of putting on an FEI event is almost certainly staggering.

While certain measures can make small dents in the overall impact of sporting events (digital ticketing, choosing flights with more eco-friendly fuel, etc.), environmentalists are unanimous that the single biggest impact that we can have on reducing our carbon footprint when flying is to just do it less.

Researchers suggest that taking less flights is the third-best thing you can do for the environment after having less children and selling your car.

So when the FEI says they’re taking the lead in sustainability by having a “green” headquarters, it’s kind of like McDonald’s saying they’re taking the lead in fighting obesity by offering salads in the Corporate Cafeteria.

If the FEI really wants to put a dent in greenhouse gases and alter their role in global warming, consider a complete reworking of things like the Global Champions Tour, the qualification system for the World Cup and Nations Cup, and Heaven forbid, perhaps a real off-season for horses and riders. Even a two-month moratorium on global events each year would significantly impact the amount of travel that horses and riders are making, but I’m not holding my breath.

In the meantime, everyday citizens of the horse world should be doing everything possible to limit our own contributions – responsible manure disposal, buying fuel-efficient hauling vehicles, limiting the amount of shows we attend or at least trying to combine or connect trips whenever possible. If a show doesn’t offer recycling, request that they do or take your recyclables home with you. And if it matters to you, express your concerns to the governing bodies of your sport and let them know that it matters.

As for the FEI, I hope they’ll make me eat my words and demonstrate real acknowledgement and action on their role in the future health of the planet – The beautiful blue dot which has so graciously sustained us and our horses for millennia. Heaven knows there won’t be any show jumping on Mars.

[Link to FEI Press Release on Sustainability]