Take the ‘One Health’ Challenge

You, your horse, our environment—the health of all are interconnected, and every action has a consequence. We dare you to make a difference with our Six-Month ‘One Health’ Challenge.

My assignment was to write a feature about something called the One Health movement. “Interesting,” I thought. “Wonder what that’s all about.” A little research revealed that the concept of One Health isn’t new. In fact, like so many of the ideas moving to the forefront of medicine these days, One Health is more of a back-to-basics, holistic approach to wellness. Simply put, it encourages cooperation among human health-care providers, veterinarians, and environmental scientists (see “One for All, All for One”).

How does it work? Professionals committed to a One Health approach are collaborating in many ways. At the forefront are those working to control the spread of zoonoses, or diseases that can be shared by humans and animals. Six out of every 10 infectious diseases in humans are spread from animals. Monitoring disease outbreaks is another focus. Animals share susceptibility to environmental hazards with us, and disease outbreaks in animal populations can serve as early-warning signs for human-health concerns. Of course, efforts to preserve ecosystems and the environment help guarantee safe water and healthy food for all. And, finally, strengthening the human-animal bond has its part within the One Health movement, as well. Healthy pets and companion animals mean healthy people.

It’s a great concept. But it got me thinking…what does it all mean for me, or you, on a day-to-day basis? Sure, we’d all love to single-handedly save the rain forests, or stop the spread of disease in far-off lands. But when we’re out at the barn cleaning stalls or doing late-night barn checks, those seem like pretty lofty goals.

Does that mean we should just forget the whole thing? Absolutely not! In fact, everything you do, however small, has the potential to make a difference. That’s why I decided to introduce my Six-Month One Health Challenge. To meet it, all you need do is take one small step every week, one effort to improve your own health, your horse’s health, or the environment around you.

To help get you going, I’ve come up with 25 suggestions—one for each week of the six-month challenge.

Are you up for it? Remember, this is a win-win-win, as you’ll be benefitting your horse, yourself, and the environment we all share. (And, if you come up with One Health ideas of your own, I’d love to hear them!)

Let’s go.

Weeks 1 Through 13

1. Replace your light bulbs. Trading out incandescent light bulbs in your barn with more energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs reduces the amount of energy you use. Plus, once they’ve burned out, LEDs can be recycled instead of disposed of in a landfill.

2. Collect, dispose of old or expired medications. Every horse owner has old medications languishing in the barn. Make a date to round them up and dispose of them through proper channels (such as your local fire department) to minimize the chance they’ll end up in water supplies.

3. Schedule vaccinations. Set up appropriate vaccinations for your horse to minimize the spread of disease—paying close attention to zoonotic illnesses like Eastern equine encephalomyelitis and West Nile virus, which can impact both humans and horses.

4. Clean manure from pastures and loafing sheds. It helps with parasite control, thus minimizing the need for deworming medications (which get into the environment). It also helps keep disease-spreading fly populations under control, plus decreases contamination of nearby water sources from waste-heavy runoff.

5. Adopt a strategic deworming program. A deworming strategy based on fecal egg counts will help control parasite populations to improve your horse’s health, minimize pressure on deworming medications, and reduce chemicals in the environment.

6. Collect, recycle baling twine. Many feed stores accept baling twine for recycling. If this option isn’t available, consider finding an artist or crafter who’ll repurpose the material for creative projects. Your effort will not only keep baling twine out of landfills, it’ll help protect wild birds from becoming entangled in baling twine they’ve used when building their nests.

7. Collect, recycle plastic feed bags. These bags can usually be recycled along with other “film plastics” to keep them out of landfills. (See a cool recycling tip on page 24.) While you’re at it, gather all your plastic shopping bags—they can usually be recycled along with feedbags.

8. Scrub water troughs. Minimize the risk of disease-carrying mosquitos’ populating in stagnant water troughs. If you have a pond on your property, clean out debris to eliminate mosquito-breeding areas. If possible, install a bat house nearby—bats can eat thousands of mosquitos daily.

9. Get a barn cat. You’ll have an environmentally friendly method of rodent control and you just might save a life if you adopt from a shelter. As an extension of this rodent-control activity, check and replace grain-storage containers with rodent-proof alternatives, and clean out areas in your barn where grain has spilled to nix the ongoing banquet for these disease-carrying rodents.

10. Install gravel around water troughs, gates. Reducing mud in high-traffic areas helps control both flies and mosquitos to protect your horse from disease. It also reduces groundwater contamination from manure-heavy runoff. While you’re working on your drainage, check and clean culverts that may be blocked and causing water buildup.

11. Donate old tack. Preserve resources and help support organizations that protect horse health by donating tack, horse blankets, and other supplies you don’t use to a local rescue organization. While you’re at it, clean out your closets and donate old riding clothes. Most horse rescues will sell what they can’t use themselves, using profits to help support their efforts.

12. Volunteer at an equine rescue facility. Rescue organizations work hard to protect horse health and strengthen the human-animal bond by removing horses from abusive situations and finding foster homes and adoption placements. Support their efforts by volunteering what time you can.

13. Collect, repurpose old horseshoes. Find an artist who uses shoes for metal sculpting, or gather shoes for scrap-metal recycling. Feeling ambitious? Consider setting up a program to collect shoes from local barns and farriers, donating proceeds from recycling to a local horse-
rescue group.

Weeks 14 Through 25

14. Clean, repair gutters and downspouts. Optimal drainage reduces mud, protecting your horse from disease and preventing groundwater contamination. If you have areas on your farm where stagnant water collects, dig trenches or install french drains to encourage better drainage.

15. Share a ride. Going to a horse show, trail ride, or other event? Team up with a friend to minimize polluting exhaust and other impacts of trucks and trailers on the road.

16. Set up solar panels. Consult with a solar-energy company to see whether panels could be installed on your barn roof to provide power. Is your property gated? Even if solar power isn’t practical for your whole barn, you may be able to use it to power a facility gate.

17. Set up a recycling center at your barn. Is your barn trash can overflowing? Many of the things you toss can be recycled. If you’re not sure what can be recycled where, a quick Internet search will give you great ideas. Start small by setting up bins to collect cardboard, plastic, and glass. Resolve to make your recycle bins bigger and better-filled than your trash can.

18. Collect cans, bottles at events. Horse shows can be thirsty places, and show-venue trash barrels often overflow with pop cans and plastic water bottles. Collect these items and return them to a recycling center. If your state has a return-for-cash program in place, you might even make enough money to pay for a class or two. Better yet, donate profits to a health-related charity.

19. Control water waste. Water is one of our most precious resources, and clean supplies are essential for healthy humans, animals, and ecosystems. Instigate water control by checking and repairing or replacing leaky hoses, installing low-volume fixtures in your wash rack or tack-room sink, and making sure back-flow devices on spigots are working properly.

20. Collect, recycle horse-show ribbons. Do you even know where all those old ribbons are stored? Dig them out and make a donation to a local 4-H group, horse camp, or other youth equestrian organization, or check out ribbonrecycling.com. Ribbons can also be recycled as textiles along with old, torn saddle pads or horse blankets. Goodwill offers an extensive textile-recycling program.

21. Adopt a biosecurity plan. If you travel to horse shows or other events where horses congregate, establish a plan that includes carrying your own water buckets and disinfecting stalls upon arrival to help reduce the spread of disease.

22. Organize, repurpose pallets. Most barns have a supply of wooden pallets left over from hay and grain delivery. Gather all those old pallets and repurpose them to build trail obstacles or jumps. And any time you have scrap wood you can’t use, haul it to a recycling center instead of throwing it in the burn pile or taking it to the landfill.

23. Volunteer at a handicapped-riding program. Horses make a direct impact on human health in programs for the handicapped. Donating your time at a local facility promotes this important human-animal bond.

24. Leave no trace. Do you trail ride or horse camp? Carry certified weed-free pellets or hay to reduce the chance of introducing non-native vegetation that can threaten fragile ecosystems. Stay on trails; clean up campsites after use. Want to go one step further? Volunteer to help clean up and maintain trails.

25. Set up a composting center. Composting organic waste turns material that can harm the environment into something beneficial. Start small by composting organic material from your kitchen, or take on the larger project of turning your manure bin into a composting area. Manure composting reduces parasite loads in your horse, lessens the need for deworming chemicals to be introduced to the environment, eliminates the need for manure disposal, and potentially produces a product—fertilizer—that can be used to grow food for humans and animals.