Equine production and activities in France: what contributions to the sustainability of local areas? - INRAE - Institut national de recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement Access content directly
Conference Papers Year : 2023

Equine production and activities in France: what contributions to the sustainability of local areas?


In France as in the rest of the European Union, little is known about the equine industry, despite its recent evolution. These changes generate the development of new kinds of activities and the growth of the whole equine industry. From livestock to sporting athletes, through landscape managers and leisure partners, equines can be used in various ways. These activities can be developed within farms specialized in equines or in addition to other agricultural productions. Consequently, the equine industry is today firmly rooted at the intersection of various sectors: agriculture, tourism, sport/leisure, industry and consumer. The evolutions of the equine industry generate new questions about the role of equines in economic vitality, culture, social connections, the environment, and rural development - questions which reflect major changes in society. This communication aims to provide an overview of economic, but also social, and environmental issues related to equine production and activities, and to illustrate them through examples of research projects carried out in France. The equine industry impacts regions in a variety of ways. First, it has an economic significance. The French Institute for Horse and Riding (IFCE) estimated the number of equines in France at 1 million in 2021, which represents a density of 15 equines per 1,000 inhabitants and of 18 equines per 1,000 hectares. The French equestrian sector generates a turnover of 11 billion euros, including 1 billion for equestrian sports and leisure activities. Equines contribute particularly to the attractiveness of deserted rural areas that look for levers to attract transient or permanent populations. Moreover, it is estimated that the equivalent of 66 000 full time jobs are provided in France by the sector. Many commercial interactions exist with different companies for food, equipment, accommodation, training of practitioners or of horses. Equine-related business activities also generate an increasing share of income in rural economies, thanks to the diversification of farmers, the use of equines in modern agriculture and forestry, the production of equine feed, etc. Second, equines generate social impacts, obviously through horse riding, which is a popular leisure activity among children and young adults – particularly female ones. In addition, we can note the development of the use of equines for therapy or social rehabilitation, as well as riding for the disabled. Equines are also a source of new social links around riding and equine ownership, and between urban and rural inhabitants. Equines benefit from a positive image in the collective imagination and their presence contributes to the attractiveness of local areas, and to connect urban populations to nature. Third, the equine industry has environmental impacts, some of them being negative, but others positive thanks to equine environmental advantages. Consequently, equines are not only an animal production, but also ecosystem service providers, especially for land use and the conservation of biodiversity. For example, equines are herbivores which contribute to the maintenance of the landscape. They occupy at least 3 million hectares (ha) of land in France. They are thus significant actors in the use of suburban and rural areas. For instance, as a link between urbanization and rurality, equines are present in transitional areas which have been abandoned by agriculture but have not yet been developed by urbanization. Moreover, the specificities of horse behavior allow them to use grasslands that are unsuitable for cattle grazing, or to use the same areas in a complementary way. Equines therefore contribute to the preservation of natural resources and biodiversity. Equine tourism and equine work also show environmental assets, as an ecological source of energy and a green means of transport. The various impacts of the equine industry generate issues of interest for research. During this communication, while exploring the diversity of the equine industry impacts, examples of research carried out in France will be highlighted. For example, the project “horse and territory” questions the role and place of equines in land use in France. This work highlights the link between the development of equestrian activities over the past twenty years, and the new residential, recreational and environmental evolutions of rural areas. These activities allow the maintenance of spaces that would be abandoned without their presence, they can represent a source of additional income for local business activities, and they participate in the development of a residential economy and in the attractiveness of the regions. Another example is a collaborative research program that aimed to study the economic, social, and environmental impacts of different kinds of equestrian sporting events, in the short and long term. Results show how these events could participate in the local economic development, but also in social utility, and how their environmental impacts can be optimized. The “equine green assets” project illustrates the importance of equines as ecosystem providers. Five major green assets are identified, linked i) to equine intrinsic specificities that for examples lead to a particular way of grazing, or to a large domestic biodiversity of equine species, ii) to their geographical distribution and their land use, and iii) to some uses by human beings, in tourism and work. Equines impact landscape, biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, soil and water quality in many ways: creating ecosystem niches in pastures, producing renewable energy through traction, creating and maintaining bridle paths for their use in tourism, maintaining sensitive areas thanks to the adaptation of local breeds to their natural environmental conditions, etc. Practical recommendations are proposed to help owners and stakeholders to promote these assets in their projects and debates. Finally, thanks to its wide range of productions: meat, work, leisure, sport, or races; and the diversity of possible activities: breeding, teaching, horse rental or boarding; equine activities are particularly a source of economic, social and environmental amenity value. Consequently, the equine industry can provide diversification opportunities to agricultural activities, contributing to their resilience and sustainability and to the vitality of the regions. In the future, it would be interesting to support more equine research, thus making this industry more visible and understandable. A better knowledge of the economic, social and environmental impacts of equine productions and activities in the agricultural sector should increase their readability by professionals and public actors. This could lead to a better integration of the equine industry in the agricultural policies and rural development towards more sustainability.
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Dates and versions

hal-04195467 , version 1 (04-09-2023)


  • HAL Id : hal-04195467 , version 1


Céline Vial. Equine production and activities in France: what contributions to the sustainability of local areas?. 25. Congress of the Animal Science and Production Association (ASPA)., Jun 2023, Monopoli, Italy. pp.18-19. ⟨hal-04195467⟩
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