A lifetime ago, when I was an undergraduate, I thought that I would be leading a very different type of life. I graduated with a B.S. in Environmental Conservation, with a specialty in Environmental Affairs, and I was really interested in environmental education. I wanted people to understand about the amazing beauty and balance in our natural world, hoping that such exposure would lead to an appreciation which would encourage conservation. While in school, I studied abroad at the School for Field Studies in Nairobi (Kenya), and interned at MASSPIRG in Boston (MA), the Seacoast Science Center in Rye (NH), and the New England Aquarium in Boston (MA). I stuffed envelopes, editing mailings, collected signatures and led tidepool tours, gave interpretive talks on Seacoast history and presented countless sessions on the mighty Homarus americanus (aka the American lobster). But on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, I served them on paper plates at the local seafood emporium in order to help pay for school.
Life is full of these little paradoxes and tradeoffs. “How is the swordfish tonight?” my customers would ask. “Oh, it’s endangered. Perhaps a nice salad?” I would reply with a laugh, as though I were kidding. My father still thinks that one of the funniest things I have ever said was that I served endangered species on paper plates to pay for my degree in conservation.
While I still love natural history, marine biology and believe in environmental conservation, my passion for horses and for riding has always been stronger. Upon graduation, I worked briefly in an elementary school but shortly after found myself managing a small horse farm and teaching some lessons. That led to other management positions and more teaching, and I never really looked back.
It is easy to disconnect from reality when you hang in the equine world for too long. Let’s face it—there are some facets of what we do which just smack of First World Privilege. It is something which from time to time has really bothered me—especially when clients get all worked up because Blaze is in the wrong colored blanket/boot set, or when I hear the amount of money which someone has dropped on a new horse, saddle or trailer. In the July/August 2017 issue of USDF Connection, Susan Reed of Albuquerque, NM, wrote in her letter to the editor, “…I cannot imagine life without my animals. However, when I see the amount of money that is spent on horses, equipment, training, and so on, I wonder at the value systems of those who choose that lifestyle….I taught school for 25-plus years and was distressed to see that my horses had better foot care, food and medical care than many of the kids in my classes…Where is the balance between making the world a better place for all creatures and being passionate about an art form, which to me is dressage? I haven’t found a good answer yet.” (Emphasis is mine).
I felt chills when I read Ms. Reed’s letter. Her sentiments echo the little voice in my own head, the one which I ignored for many years but which has become louder and louder in recent months. What have I done to make this world a better place?
When I moved to Cold Moon Farm two years ago, one of my goals was to make it a model of implementing sustainable practices in horse farm management. At the same time, I run on a shoestring budget, so I know that any progress would be gradual. What could be overwhelming can sometimes be easier to manage in smaller chunks. In the long term, I hoped that I could learn some “best practices” and then use media to help spread the word to more equestrians.
Progress has been slower than anticipated.
But slow progress is still progress, and this spring I took part in the New Hampshire Coverts Program, put on annually by UNH Cooperative Extension. This three day workshop is geared towards land owners, managers and conservationists to train them to promote wildlife habitat conservation and forest stewardship. I can’t believe how much information was packed into that workshop—I think most of us left feeling both overwhelmed and invigorated.
Becoming a Coverts Cooperator is exciting to me for several reasons. First, participating in the program allowed me to return to my “roots”, so to speak, and spend time with other conservation minded individuals. Secondly, it showed me that becoming an effective land steward doesn’t happen overnight, and that there are many resources available for support and assistance. Finally, I realized that it really is okay to try to manage this farm to meet my objectives; in other words, creating well placed riding trails, pastures and other horse areas is acceptable if that is what I want to do with my land. I can emphasize improved habitat opportunities in other places on the property, and by managing the “horse parts” of the farm well, I can reduce the negative impact they might otherwise have on local ecosystems.
After attending the workshop, I contacted Strafford County Extension Forester Andy Fast and set up an appointment for him to visit the farm. We walked all around the property but especially paid attention to the 26 acres which are in current use. Two of these acres are classified as “farmland” (aka, field) and the rest are woodlot. There are some basic trails out there but they need a brush hog and additional clearing to make them more usable for the horses. Andy was excited by the amount of white oak on the lot, reminding me that it is a valuable food source for many species. He recommended applying for funds through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to create a Forest Management Plan, which would allow for a possible small timber harvest. Well planned timber harvests can have many benefits, including improving forest health, increasing diversity, improving wildlife habitat, and possibly yielding a little income which could then be used to improve the trails.
I also participated in two further trainings. First, I have become a “Speaking for Wildlife” volunteer, another program coordinated through UNH Cooperative Extension. Groups such as senior centers, youth organizations, conservation commissions, libraries, etc., can sign up to have trained volunteers present a number of scripted slide shows on topics such as NH wild history, bat conservation, vernal pools and more. Our commitment is to try to give just one presentation per year, which seems pretty reasonable! I also attended a field workshop on managing shrub land and young forest lands for wildlife and bird species. We visited two different sites, identifying nearly ten species of birds and actually mist netting two.
For me, all of these actions have been tangible, rejuvenating steps which help to bring my life back into alignment with my core values. I love horses—that will never change, and I continue to be passionate about riding, coaching and training others. I will continue to take active steps towards achieving my personal goals with horses and for my business. But at the same time, it is equally important to me that I am working to make this world a better place, and to not get so all consumed in the accuracy of a ten meter circle that I forget to appreciate all of the beauty and open space around me.
Stay tuned for further updates on future actions which will help me to “live my values”.