Some of you may have noted from my recent blogs that I traveled to Australia this past November. I was invited to be the keynote speaker at an Australian national conference, "Horses and Land Management," an event that was more than five years in the planning on my end.

The author, on the right, at Living Legends in Melbourne, a retirement home for thoroughbred racehorses. Alayne’s friend Sheri Clevenger, who traveled with her, is on the left. Doctoral candidate and conference speaker Mariette van der Berg, is in the middle. Mariette spoke on horse behavior as it relates to pasture management.

Photo courtesy: Alayne Blickle

The two-day conference targeted Australian government officials and agency staff who work with horse owners. It was a dialogue about ways to improve horse keeping standards that will reduce water quality impacts and deal with climate change. Speakers shared knowledge on sustainable horse keeping practices such as pasture management and weed control, dust and mud reduction, composting and manure management, emerging diseases, and emergency management. The event was organized by Horse SA, a not-for-profit community-based organization whose goal is to help support Australia’s growing horse industry.

As the keynote speaker, I was invited to talk about my 15-plus years of experience with Horses for Clean Water providing environmental education to horse owners on horse property management. I shared information and ideas on how to create a successful peer education program that is win-win-win for everyone: from the horse to the landowner, neighbors,and the environment. I showed presentations with lots and lots of photos of the wonderful horse properties many of you have across North America (you were all central to my talks!)

I presented ideas for different styles and methods of managing manure and building compost bins. I talked about innovations in managing confinement areas like track paddocks as well as ways to combat horse boredom including slow feeders, both novel ideas for most Aussie horse owners. I advocated for different techniques for reducing pesticide and chemical use on horse properties. And I shared ideas for rotational grazing.

Horses and Land Management was held in an interesting location. Living Legends in Melbourne is a retirement home for Thoroughbred racehorses. It’s a beautiful park-like setting with hundreds of acres of open space along with large grassy pastures where the retired racehorses live. Wildlife roams free, including herds of the native kangaroos. It was mesmerizing seeing the fields teaming with these large, bouncing marsupials--some females even had a little joey in their pouch. The public pays to wander between pastures, visit exracehorses or watch kangaroos. It’s a lovely setting for an afternoon stroll or family picnic.

Wildlife roams free at Living Legends, including herds of the native kangaroos. It was mesmerizing seeing the fields teaming with these large, bouncing marsupials.

Photo: Alayne Blickle

Even though Australia is an English speaking country there were some confusing moments over language differences that led to smiles and laughter. Just for fun, here are some of the differences I noted, the American words and their Down Under counterpart:

Alfalfa = Lucerne
Chickens =Chooks
Pastures = Paddocks
Blankets = Rugs
Trailers = Floats
Mosquito = Mozzie
Trash = Rubbish
Exit = Way out
Backcountry = Bush
Lemonade = Sprite
You’re welcome = No Worries
Beer = Piss
Supper = Tea
Break time = Tea

As you can imagine, much of this led to bewilderment like when I heard someone talking about “floating a horse down the road,” or in a lecture when they referred to diseases carried by “chooks.” I quickly discovered that when I talked about paddock management, thinking of paddocks as confinement areas, they were thinking of pastures instead. At one point I asked my host why Australians call alfalfa “lucern,” thinking perhaps it had to do with a Latin root for the word or some scientific explanation. He replied with a smile, “Well, we were wondering why you Americans call it alfalfa.” All in all, the language thing was always easy to straighten out; we celebrated the differences, but recognized the greater similarities.

Kidding aside, my overall impression of the Australian horse industry is that it’s one full of wonderful, innovative people (much like here) who are devoted horsewomen and -men. It seems to primarily be centered on their huge racing industry which contributes $8 billion annually to Australia’s GNP, and I was lucky enough to personally meet Bel Esprit and Wanted, two of Australia’s leading Thoroughbred sires.

But I did find one big difference: Australians are more proactively working towards adapting to climate change in regard to horse management than we Americans. They are aware that diseases affecting horses are on the increase. Gary Muscatello, DVM, from the University of Sydney and one of the conference speakers, stated: “Every time new outbreaks occur there seems to be these links between climate change and infectious disease risk.”

The general principle is this: Where climates are warming and the patterns are changing, it influences what’s happening in those locations. Both domestic and wild animals are stressed by the changes (greater heat, less water availability, increased dust, reduced air quality resulting from fires, less habitat) so they become more susceptible to infection. Less habitat for wildlife means wildlife is moving into areas where there’s better habitat such as around horse properties, thus increasing exposure to pathogens. As Muscatello explained, “the interaction of the stressors on the horse along with the new disease organisms to which the animals are immunologically naive leads to new disease outbreaks.”

So as the Australian climate warms and becomes drier, Australian horse keepers are looking at ways to decease and manage dust, conserve water, prepare for increases of insects and new disease outbreaks, and develop firewise education aimed at decreasing fire risk. Watch for future blogs on several of these topics.

For now, G’day mate!