Will Nitrogen Rules Make Riding Expensive At All?

Amid all the farmers’ protests, their voices are hardly heard, but entrepreneurs in the equine sector are also concerned about nitrogen policy. “For most Dutch people, horseback riding has become untenable.”

Marco van den Berg

private lessons for celebrities, team formation for lawyers, tours with hunting groups; In his own words, Paul Sueters focuses on the “upper part” with his stable Het Zwarte Paard in Emst. It now appears to be a wise choice, as its customers may suffer from a potential price increase. And that’s what he expects thanks to his “strict nitrogen policy.”

Eighteen years ago, Sueters sold his reading portfolio company and “with that money” he was able to fulfill his childhood dream in Veluwe. The stables are located near Paleis Het Loo in Apeldoorn. There he takes care of thirty horses, including a large number of magnificent Friesians. Since the company is close to the Natura 2000 conservation area, there is a chance that he will soon have to turn over the horses. Or in the worst case scenario: having no place at all for his activities. It depends on how many farmers have stopped in his area.

Sweeters suspects that many ranchers in the Imst area – there are mainly small businesses – would benefit from the blanket purchase arrangement. But to be honest, he’s not entirely sure about that. “I foresee problems for the industry as a whole. If we are allowed to keep fewer horses, we will have less income, but the costs are still high. It is inevitable that driving lessons will become more expensive too. Horseback riding will soon be a dirty sport again. I think that is a real shame. , because a lot of people can now enjoy it.”

In the danger zone

In the Netherlands there are half a million jockeys and about ten thousand horse companies. Together, these represent a turnover of at least 1.5 billion euros annually, as calculated by the KNHS Equine Association. Combined, that amounts to 450,000 horsepower. They are subject to the same rules of animal husbandry as cows, pigs and chickens. Although the horse sector contributes “only” five percent to the total nitrogen emissions of Dutch cattle, there is another problem. The rider traditionally wants access to paths and forests. So it makes sense that there are a large number of horse farms near or even in the middle of an endangered nature reserve. So riding schools, breeding farms and horse farms are in the danger zone like intensive livestock farming.

It is still difficult to determine whether horse companies should actually close their doors as a result. But unrest is growing among entrepreneurs, Hayek Blau notes. He is the Director of FNRS, the Federation of Dutch Equestrian Sports Centres. Equestrian sports have grown in strength since the 1960s. There are now about a thousand equestrian centers and most of them are affiliated with his organization. Blau says the number of members is rising because of all the recent developments.

Blau recently visited Johan Remix, who mediates between farmers and the cabinet. There he put all the concerns of his sector on the table. In July, FNRS held a webinar for members. There are many questions among supporters. Blau says the amount and position can shift differently for each company and region. There is no level to measure. “You are very dependent on what your neighbors will do. Are they young farmers who may still want to continue and therefore not be bought? Then the horse owners could end up in a difficult situation.”

Lots of organic matter

Horse litter is drier than cow litter and has less smell. But the most important difference: Fresh horse manure, which is rich in straw, contains a lot of organic matter and less minerals. As a result, less harmful nitrogen is released than, for example, in cows.

Blau certainly doesn’t want to shy away from the nitrogen problem, but he thinks more leniency should be applied to horses. “Horses are not production animals. Our sector is concerned with recreation, relaxation, breeding and sports. Of course, if necessary, we will also contribute to the reduction of nitrogen, but we are not an intensive animal farm. In the big horse companies you talk about one hundred to one hundred and fifty horses; that is incomparable with what you usually see in cows, chickens, and pigs.”

Paul Sweeters in his stable. He gets dung from the stables. Horse manure contains fewer minerals than cow or pig manure.Hermann Engbers statue

Nitrogen professor Wim de Vries from Wageningen University and Research (WUR) corroborates Blau’s story. The equine sector produces much less nitrogen and horses are not used for meat production. But whether that justifies any indulgence toward horse breeders, he finds “more a political question than a science question.”

Johann Wollenbrück, president of Mobilization for the Environment (MOB), also believes that horses do not fit into the “livestock industry” category. “Their contribution to the nitrogen problem is also limited in general, and therefore is not a target group for MOB,” he says in his response.

Horse manure is popular among mushroom growers and is important in agriculture as a soil conditioner. It’s more of a value than a problem, FNRS Director Blaauw points out. “Horses used to receive a lot of concentrates, but with all the concern for animal welfare, it has now been converted into roughage. As a result, the composition of horse litter has also changed dramatically.”

new search

This is an interesting fact, says Blau. Because the government uses a baseline to determine emissions that were determined largely on the basis of research from the 1990s. “So we’re advocating new research at the current core value and I think emissions for our sector could be even lower.”

Unlike a cow, a horse does not urinate when it defecates. By better separating urine and feces in the stables, greenhouse gas emissions and ammonia formation can even be reduced by 75 percent, research by WUR has already shown. Blau also sees opportunities for his sector by investing in better extraction in the stables. He therefore advocates the fact that the State Council has recently destroyed the permit of such a “smart stable”.

He did not lose sight of the fact that the owners of the horses barely made themselves heard during the farmers’ protests. We may be a little less revolutionary, but make no mistake; We stand in solidarity with farmers. Remember that we depend on them for hay, hay and other forage. Hay actually comes in part from France and Spain due to shortages. If more and more farmers stop in our country, these prices will also rise. Let’s not hope for it, but if we continue down this road, riding will become too expensive for most Dutch people.”


Earlier this year Marieke Toonders, Head of Equine Breeding at LTO Holland, sat down to the table with broker Remkes on behalf of both the LTO and the Horse Sector Council. She notes that the Cabinet has created a lot of uncertainty with the now infamous reminder about emissions reduction targets. She notes that horse breeders near the Natura 2000 areas are particularly concerned. “If you keep the animals and you see that 74 to 90 percent should be reduced in your area, you automatically expand that to your own company. Of course there is a concern about that.”

Horse owner Paul Sweeters:

Horse owner Paul Sweeters: “I understand the turmoil among my colleagues.”Hermann Engbers statue

The Equine Sector Council has informed Remix that the equine industry “should not be combined with other animal sectors”. Actually for the same reasons that Blau also mentioned; After all, a horse emits much less nitrogen.

LTO presented a plan this year based on “sustainable balance”. In short: Make sure farmers who don’t have a successor get enough compensation for stopping and provide space and perspective for those who stay — horse owners included — to invest in sustainable and innovative business operations. Toonders: “Less protein in the feed, dilute manure with water, more grazing, smarter techniques in the barn; in the broad sense, measures can be taken that can lead to cutbacks. But unfortunately, I have only heard this government speak of a procurement policy.”


The consequences of nitrogen policy on the equine sector are still difficult to determine, says Toonders. “Only when provinces start working with so-called area-oriented operations will what the company-wide regulations mean will be decided. There are many factors. Where is the company located, how long has it been there, how many peak loads are in the area, and does the entrepreneur already have a nature permit It requires a lot of customization.”

At Emst, Paul Sueters considers himself lucky to have all the necessary papers in his pocket, including a nature permit. He knows that this does not apply to all companies. I also know entrepreneurs who have always excelled in the application of building permits and environmental licenses. But also in the municipality of Epe, which is under the supervision of Emst, it has already been announced that from now on, more attention will be paid to horse chests and illegal expansions. “So when the county starts those area-oriented operations, you can guess who they will hit first. I understand the turmoil among my colleagues. Those who don’t have everything in order at this time will have their turn sooner or later.”

Read also:
LTO foreman: ‘If 2030 remains, it won’t work out between farmers and cabinet’

On the eve of the week that Johann Remix once again issued heavy nitrogen advice, LTO CEO Sijak van der Tak is cautiously optimistic. “I have a feeling people are really listening again.”

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