With winter on its way out, you may be starting to plan your days out on the trail. What a privilege it is to be able to enjoy both your equine companion and your beautiful community or back country at the same time! But what if that community has plans to stop you from taking your horse out on the trail?
Quite often, for seemingly unknown reasons, governments will decide to deny access to horses on trails where horses used to be allowed. Their reasons are varied and often made using information and input from only a few groups, leaving them with less than all the information needed to make an unbiased decision.
How can we as equestrians make sure horses are considered in future plans? It all comes down to building respect and relationships. When the Land Managers sit down to draft their new Management Plan, horses should be at the front of their mind in the most positive light.
Learn about your local trails.
Find out the history of the trail. Have horses always been allowed access? Was the trail a route for industry via horseback/carriage? Who used to use the trail, and why? Historical access can be an important part of keeping a trail open to horses, so the more you know, the better you’re able to defend your right to ride there.
Establish a relationship with the land owner.
Every trail sits on someone’s land. If it’s on public land, you’ll want to contact your city hall to find out if the trail is on Municipal or Provincial land. You can also contact Front Counter BC to find out information including land ownership, tenures, and whether or not the trail is registered through them. By building a relationship with the people in City Council, BC Parks, and Recreation Sites & Trails, you can be assured that they’ll think of you when they start planning for any upgrades to their Management Plan. If you see that there was some maintenance done on your favorite trail, why not give the land owners a call or shoot them an email to thank them? If you have ideas or suggestions, perhaps let them know. Does the trail need some maintenance work? If you’re part of a club, it might make a good impression to work with the land owners and your club to arrange for work bees, where the club will lend volunteers to help with simple maintenance. This will keep you in touch with the staff, and help to show that equestrians are an important and helpful user group. For back country trails, it might be harder to coordinate these activities, but it’ll be worth it to have continued access.
Establish a relationship with other trail users.
If a trail is used by many different trail groups, why not get to know them a bit. See about going to any meetings for other trail users. Bring along some materials for them on sharing trails with horses. Perhaps arrange for people to meet a horse and learn how to interact with them on the trail. Maybe hold work bees with volunteers from every user group to make sure the trail stays in tip-top condition. Find out what the other trail users need as far as interaction goes and make sure to spread the word to other equestrians out there. By using common courtesy and proper trail etiquette, you can give other trail users a positive experience and encourage support from non-equestrian trail users.
Read the management plans.
To keep horses on the trails it’s important to stay informed. You don’t necessarily have to attend every city council meeting or public input period, but you might consider checking their agendas to see what they plan to discuss. Make sure to check the local paper and the city, BC Parks, & Recreation Sites & Trails websites to see if there are any notices posted. If they’re reviewing or updating a Management Plan, make sure to read the fine print. There may be a small snippet buried in there about a trail they’re considering paving. Use your computer’s “Find” feature to search for key words such as “horse,” “equestrian,” or “equine.” That may make reading through the document a little less intimidating.
Participate in public input periods.
When the government is ready to hear public input about their plans, make sure the equine community is a large voice. Encourage your club members, local stables, feed & tack stores, and anywhere else you can think of to speak up about the contributions equestrians make in the community, to the trail, and to the well-being of local citizens. Incorrect assumptions about riding are often made by those not familiar with the economic and health benefits of riding a horse, and so horse access may be thought of as less important than other physical activities. Let them know why that trail is important to you and other riders.
The best way to keep a trail open is to stay informed and connected. Horse Council can help to connect active equestrians to areas of concern and we can lend our voice of support as well, but we depend on people at the local level to let us know what’s happening across the province. The more voices speaking on behalf of equestrian access, the better the chances are to save your trails.