This morning, as I was hacking through a path mowed through local hay fields, I counted my blessings. I am lucky enough to live in a town that is truly a leader in the conservation of its land and the maintenance of its trail systems. Although only 12 miles west of Boston, the town boasts 75 miles of trails, many of which are equine friendly, and has its own public riding ring (with jumps!). We even have a town farm which hays many of the fields, selling mostly to local families.
Maintaining an equine-friendly town takes commitment from horse owners, both in terms of respect for the land and participation in town decision making. About a year ago, there was a meeting by the trail commission because some residents took umbrage at the horse manure that was on some of the trails. They proposed that riders should have to clean up after their horses or that horses should wear diapers to keep from soiling the trails (don’t laugh, diapers for horses do exist!). There was record turn out from horse owners at the meeting, including an impassioned speech from one of the town’s major landowners who spoke of the role that equestrian pursuits have played in our town for hundreds of years. In the end, there were no restrictions placed on equestrians.
This is not true in many other towns. There are lots of places where the traditional bridle paths have been closed to horses. Property owners who have not grown up with ponies in their back yards don’t want horses tearing up their lawns and leaving free fertilizer in their wakes. As horse owners, we must cultivate these property holders by showing them respect for their land. We must always ride on the edge of fields, avoid soft footing and be courteous when we encounter hikers on the trails. The riding way of life is seen by many as anachronistic and by some as elitist. We need to make sure that it is neither. If you live in a town where bridle paths are still part of the landscape, make sure that you are always a good ambassador for the sport, and please make sure you participate in the land policies adopted by your town so that the trails are preserved for the next generation.
There are plenty of people who still enjoy seeing horses walk by. One morning I was riding down a quiet road when a woman burst out her front door still in her bathrobe. “Oh,” she cried, “I heard the hoof beats and I had to come out. It’s been years since anyone has ridden by and I so miss it!”
We do still have our