CAFOs and the Horse Industry

What is a CAFO?

An Animal Feed Operation (AFO) is any animal feeding operation where animals are kept and raised in confined situations on a property for a total of 45 days in any 12-month period and where crops, vegetation, forage growth, or post-harvest residues are not sustained in the normal growing season over any portion of the lot of facility.

To be considered a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), AFOs are permitted based on several conditions including the number of animals housed during each 12-month period. Facilities are regulated as a Small (<150 horses), Medium (150-499 horses), or Large CAFO (500+ horses).

No matter what size an operation is, if it is an AFO, it may be designated a CAFO. Many diverse types of horse operations including show grounds, breeding facilities, racetracks, recreational boarding stables, and more could be regulated as a CAFO.

Being defined as a CAFO requires you to manage wastewater and drainage, have a nutrient management plan, and repeat the permit inspection annually.

History of CAFO Regulations

The Clean Water Act (CWA) sets a basis for regulation of CAFOs within the United States since the 1970s. The CWA prohibits the discharge of pollution into the Water of the United States (WOTUS) from any point source, unless permitted by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). Currently, CAFOs are regulated by the EPA via the NPDES at the federal level. The EPA determines the maximum allowable amount of contaminants that can be discharged by a CAFO via the Effluent Guidelines.

Pollutants from manure in water cause excess algae growth and deplete the water of oxygen needed by fish and other aquatic life; they can also make the water unsafe for drinking and recreational activities.

Current CAFO effluent guidelines are based on tonnage of manure produced per animal. The federal permitting process qualifies states to manage NPDES permit applications with the exception of MA, NH, NM, and Puerto Rico. States are also able to add additional CAFO permitting requirements.

Current Federal Issues Affecting CAFO Regulations

Sackett vs. EPA

In 2022 the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case regarding enforcement of the CWA. The case focused on the definition of waters covered under the CWA and the EPAs ability to enforce those definitions.

In May 2023 the Supreme Court ruled the EPA did not have jurisdiction over the Sacketts’ property and thus “the Clean Water Act extends only to wetlands that have a continuous surface connection with “waters” of the United States — i.e., with a relatively permanent body of water connected to traditional interstate navigable waters, 33 U.S.C. § 1362(7).”

Updated Definitions to WOTUS

The EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) use the definition of WOTUS to determine which water bodies are subject to CWA programs. The recent Sackett ruling may affect how the EPA and Corps define WOTUS. Redefining WOTUS could determine how many operations should be considered CAFOs.

EPA Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15

In February 2023, the EPA announced Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15 (Plan 15). Plan 15 lays out a roadmap to research effluent discharge from several industries with the ultimate goal to provide information to update EPA Effluent Guidelines. This research plan includes studies of discharge from CAFOs, including horse operations.

Where is there potential for regulatory change?

The industry is concerned CAFO regulations were created with beef, dairy, poultry, pork, and other traditional food animals in mind and place excessive financial and logistical hardship on equine operations. As husbandry practices associated with horse operations differs from traditional food and fiber livestock, horse operations should have any required CAFO permitting tailored specifically to the circumstances surrounding husbandry practices.

There is potential for change with any updated CAFO definitions at the federal level, but it should be noted that many states have revised CAFO definitions and thus opportunities must also be reviewed at the state level. The AHC encourages all members to review CAFO regulations specific to their state and understand where there is potential for horse specific research and language updates.

Actionable Next Steps

Understanding CAFO regulations is half the battle of seeking change. AHC implores all horse facilities read up on active regulations both at the state and federal level. Knowing what regulations currently apply to your operation is critical to ensuring compliance and avoiding financial penalties. Reaching out to your state department of agriculture, or local USDA extension agent, is a great starting place to learn what regulations may apply to your operation.

Even if your operation is not classified as a CAFO, it’s important to comply with all applicable federal and local environmental regulations.

AHC has connected with the Plan 15 project manager and is continuing to stay in contact while the horse operation study evolves. We’ll work to make sure waste products from horse operations are fairly and accurately analyzed. Results from the Plan 15 study will provide guidance for any exemptions or horse specific language we may seek in CAFO permitting.

Where to learn more

If you’re interested in learning about CAFOs, feel free to reach out to Emily Stearns (

Outdoor Recreation Roundtable and Members in Action During Great Outdoors Month® Senate Unanimously Proclaims June Great Outdoors Month®

Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) – along with federal, state, private and nonprofit partners across the country – is celebrating Great Outdoors Month®(GOM) this June. Great Outdoors Month® is a national recognition of outdoor recreation on America’s treasured lands and waters, with thousands of events across the country hosting millions of visits, and has been unanimously proclaimed by the Senate for the seventh year in a row. The resolution – led by Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Gary Peters (D-MI) – celebrates outdoor recreation’s contributions to the nation saying, “…regular outdoor recreation is associated with economic growth, positive health outcomes, and better quality of life…,” and “…it is imperative that the United States ensure that access to outdoor recreation is available to all its people for generations to come.”

Throughout the month, ORR will celebrate the progress of key outdoor recreation provisions that will help Americans access their favorite outdoor activities. America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (AORA) is a groundbreaking package of outdoor recreation bills aimed at increasing and easing access to the outdoors for more Americans – reducing burdens on outfitters and guides; ensuring access to green spaces in underserved communities; developing, improving and completing long-range trails; investing in rural communities; and so much more. All of this comes at no additional cost to taxpayers. ORR is also pushing for outdoor recreation-related provisions within the upcoming Farm Bill intended to bolster local communities’ outdoor recreation economies and support the mental and physical health of millions of Americans.

“Great Outdoors Month® 2023 begins with the outdoor recreation industry joining together and urging Congress to pass AORA and help more of us enjoy the outdoors and grow the $862 billion outdoor recreation economy,” said Jessica Turner, president of ORR. “While we will take time to celebrate the outdoors and all the benefits that come from it this month, the outdoor recreation industry is also focused on ensuring all Americans have access to the outdoors and feel welcomed. There is no better time than Great Outdoors Month® to make meaningful progress on these issues and more. Join us in getting outside and helping others do the same.”

Great Outdoors Month®, which began as Great Outdoors Week under President Clinton, has been proclaimed by every president since 1998 and has been unanimously declared by the Senate each year since 2017. 2023 continues the Great Outdoors Month® tradition, and consists of events engaging millions of people in all 50 states throughout the month of June. Thousands of events, each with their own rich history and coordinated by partner organizations, celebrate all facets of the $862 billion outdoor recreation economy and encourage people to get outdoors during June and beyond. Events include:


●      Kids to Parks Day – coordinated by the National Park Trust (May 20th)

●      American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day® (June 3rd)

●      National Fishing and Boating Week – coordinated by the National Boating and Fishing Foundation (June 3rd-11th)

●      National Go RVing Day (June 10th) – coordinated by Go RVing

●      National Get Outdoors Day (June 10th) – U.S. Forest Service fee free day

●      Great Outdoors Month® Day of Service (June 16th)

●      Great American Campout (kicking off June 24th) – coordinated by the National Wildlife Federation

●      National Marina Days (all summer) – coordinated by the Association of Marina Industries


While no in June, don’t forget National Meet A Horse Day. July 21st!

AHC Annual Conference Inspires and Spurs Action in Denver

The American Horse Council (AHC) wrapped a trip out West with its 2023 Annual Conference on June 6. The enthusiasm for learning and combatting a growing list of missions filled a packed crowd of industry leaders and ardent enthusiasts.

Attendees heard updates on the actions of such committees as the United Horse Coalition, Equine Welfare, Health & Regulatory, Racing Advisory, Show and Competition and Recreation/Trails/Land Use Committees that encompass the many facets of the AHC. Presentations spurred conviction to look for change or action during engaging presentations at the annual National Issues Forum.

“The theme for the 2023 National Issues Forum is ‘The Measure of Tomorrow,’ and is intended to showcase four important focus areas for the future of equine and equestrian industry – Economics, Sustainability, Herd Health, and Strengthening the Community,” stated AHC President Julie Broadway in her opening remarks. “As you hear these presentations, I ask you to think about how the information shared will inform your actions to ‘shape’ tomorrow. We all strive to leave things ‘better than we found them’ so that’s my challenge to you – how does the content you hear today help you and us think as visionaries and leaders that have the opportunity to ‘shape’ tomorrow?”

Economics and how the industry is valued was the first focus of the forum. Speakers included Dr. Gregory Graff, professor of the Economics of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Colorado State University; Michael Vanaskie of The Innovation Group, one of the lead economists for the AHC Economic Impact Study and Julie Broadway of AHC on the 2023 AHC Study. Broadway and Vanaskie highlighted how the differences between the current format of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) census and what the AHC hopes can become a more encompassing horse census. This census has been spurred by the AHC’s (ongoing) Equine Economic Impact Survey and how more accurate numbers can help the industry get a fairer piece of the Farm Bill, which is currently in debate in Washington, DC.

The focus on sustainability took an eye-opening and nose-pinching turn when Colorado State University Capstone students Jessica Stock and Vanessa Roy shared their presentation on how horse manure is being repurposed to consumable electricity in Finland and how that could be used in the United States. Scott Evans shared his mission of helping horse show circuits and associations take a greener approach to their events with his initiative Green is the New Blue. It all started with trying to eliminate single-use water bottles being left behind at shows to something that’s bigger than just your local show circuit. Finally, Megan Fellows shared her mission of Carbon Hoofprints—innovative solutions for stakeholders in the equestrian stakeholders.

Always a hot topic, the focus on Herd Health included Joe LaFollette of League of Ag & Equine Centers, Dr. Nat White of Equine Disease Communication Center and Dr. Angela Pelzel McCluskey of the USDA on biosecurity measures needed to mitigate disease at shows and events and at home. This was supported by a presentation by the University of Florida’s Dr. Sally DeNotta that shared how the changing climate is affecting equine infectious diseases and increasing vectors that might not have been thought of in years past.

Finally, the forum focused on strengthening the horse community with the AHC Marketing Alliance. Members Jen Grant of Zoetis and Christy Landwehr of National Reining Horse Association shared a new campaign to reach out to more than our own industry, but outside the horse industry with the “HereForHorses” campaign. The campaign is an evolution of two previous campaigns that included the Time To Ride campaign to introduce riding and horses to the general public. The “HereForHorses” campaign is in its infancy, with more details to come.

“This was one of the best issue forum I’ve attended,” said Dr. Josie Traub Dargatz, formerly of CSU, who was happy to attend the forum in her own back yard of Colorado. Her sentiments were echoed from many who attended.

AHC also honored five award winners and the recording of the award ceremony will be on the AHC website soon. Rep Jacki Walorski, Dr . Jerry Black, Gary Carpenter, Dr Chelsie Huseman and Days End Farm Horse Rescue.

“The conference is one of the best ways to engage and be reinspired with our mission to bring together the horse industry—no matter the breed, discipline, background or location,” says Broadway. “We hope everyone left reinvigorated with new ideas and calls to action.”

The next AHC National Conference and National Issues Forum will be held in Washington, DC, June 9-11, 2024, with plans to build on the momentum created in Denver.

Legislative Update

American Horse Council’s (AHC) will be up on Capitol Hill over the next coming weeks to urge completion of proposals addressing horse welfare, access to public recreation areas, tax relief, horse transport, and agricultural employment. Several of these bills have had committee hearings, while others await initial consideration. There is a rush at the end of a congressional term to move the focus to topics intended to capture the attention and support of voters in an election year – our proposals are some of those focus topics.


Case in point: Congress has interrupted its usual August recess with session work to adopt the massive Inflation Reduction Act which included many tax credits and incentives to lower carbon emissions, fund alternative energy sources, water conservation payments for Western farmers and ranchers in the Colorado River basin, and provide dollars for federal health care plans.


As a result, you may have tax, health care, and debt forgiveness options.


If you are upgrading your operations there will be tax credits available for solar panels, heat pumps and small wind energy systems. There’s also a credit for electric vehicles, but the $7,500 comes with “Made in America” requirements that may make it impossible to claim the subsidy for the purchase of most electric vehicles currently on the market.

The bill also provides debt relief to farmers and ranchers holding distressed United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) federal loans.

As described by the Congressional Research Service, nearly $2.9 billion is allocated to help underserved farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners, defined to include those living in high poverty areas, veterans, limited resource producers, and beginning farmers and ranchers. Most of this assistance is $2.2 billion of financial assistance for those who experienced discrimination before 2021 in USDA farm lending programs. Individual payments for discrimination would be limited to $500,000 and are to be administered by nongovernmental entities selected and overseen by USDA. The bill also would provide $125 million for technical assistance, outreach, and mediation; $250 million for land loss assistance, such as heirs’ property and fractionated land; $250 million for agricultural education emphasizing scholarships and career development at historically Black, tribal, and Hispanic colleges; and $10 million for equity. USDA is expected to write the rules defining the criteria for eligibility.


A provision with more immediate rewards is financial assistance for those who hold insurance through the Affordable Care Act. According to The Hill, a news organization covering Congress, the proposal expands eligibility to receive help paying their premiums, and it increases the amount of aid. The payments to off-set federal market insurance costs were scheduled to expire at the end of this year. Another “relief” provision extends the limitation on excess business losses of non-corporate taxpayers.


The Administration plans to post a new climate Website describing the tax credits along with eligibility requirements

Spending $430 billion dollars is no easy task. Finding a revenue stream to pay for spending $430 is an even a more difficult task. Big, billion-dollar companies are going to foot some of the bill, but there are expectations that the $80 billion earmarked for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to modernize and enhance enforcement audits will offset the costs associated with the Inflation Reduction Act. In a letter to Congress the IRS Commissioner reassured legislators that funding increases “are absolutely not about increasing audit scrutiny on small businesses or middle-income Americans.” 


Stay tuned. The Inflation Reduction Act will likely be campaign issue