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Your Public Riding Spaces Are Not Guaranteed!

Here's a familiar story of the American West. First, horse and cattle trails become popular outdoor recreation areas. State, county, and city park administrations take on management of such areas. More user groups start to use this amazing recreational area or more land is needed for affordable housing. Equestrian use is the first user group to go bye bye. Have you experienced this in your local community? I have, and it has driven me to get involved in my local public equestrian spaces for their health and preservation. Please consider supporting a local equestrian park, venue or public land space near you!

I am from Montana. I grew up assuming that everyone had local access to thousands of acres and hundreds of trail heads within a short drive of their front door. Public access in Montana is everywhere and greatly cherished by its residents. It's why people are moving here in droves and Missoula medium housing prices are over $600,000! It's why my husband and I moved here. I have a 90 acre equestrian park across the street from my house with 5 arenas and a cross country course through training level and a huge state park 10 minute trailer ride away with an endless looping trail system. I use these publicly owned spaces several days a week, and I really do NOT want to take them for granted! This is why, with the help of many other board members and volunteers, I created the Northwest Horse Park Alliance and the Big Sky Horse Park Pet Run/Walk in 2022! More about those later.

I also grew up in the United States Pony Club, an equestrian youth education with a very strong educational curriculum covering every aspect of horse health, management and industry. When the Testing Committee added "Land Conservation" to the curriculum in the early 2000's, I was confused why this was necessary- again a reference to my naivety about public spaces. But, after testing candidates all over the United States and hearing about the loss of their public riding spaces, I understood. I more deeply understood when a section of DNR out my back door was almost lost to horse riding. The local mountain biking community of which I was ALSO a part, did not want horse prints on their newly built trails and were advocating for equine restriction. My naivety turned to advocacy after I realized just how easily public spaces could be lost to equestrians.

Some of My Local Public Riding Spaces

Let's face it, folks. Equestrians, as a user group, are not very well organized. Historically, the Backcountry Horseman of America, has been a powerful lobbying force in D.C. advocating for equestrian access to public lands. However, membership and funds of that group has wained across U.S. states as equestrian culture shifts to more urban spaces. In my local communities, I see the barrel racers doing their thing, and the dressage riders doing their thing, and every discipline you can think of advocating for their own spaces and venues. But where are the combined interdisciplinary, grass root organizations that support ALL equestrian users? They are very few and far between, and it is for this reason that we will continue to lose public riding spaces. We are not presenting as a united front against other younger recreational organization with stronger cultures of volunteering, trail building, lobbying and fundraising. This must change.

Just take the Evergreen Mountain Biking Alliance for example! They are the most powerful, well funded mountain bike advocacy group in the United States. I have HUGE respect for this group and was a member myself for many years. I went with them to Olympia, Washington state's capitol, back in 2018 to help them lobby for trail access and building. It was amazingly well organized and meaningful. They helped get a public lands budget passed through the state that year that benefited all user groups. I would love to see state or regional equestrian advocacy groups organizing like the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance does.

The First Annual Big Sky Horse Park Pet Run/Walk 2022

Today, I am a member of the Big Sky Horse Park board. To bring greater awareness, advocacy, and volunteering to my local equestrian park the BSHP board created two new events in 2022- the Big Sky Horse Park Pet Run/Walk in May and the Northwest Horse Park Alliance meeting in October. I'm really, REALLY proud of these events, because they embrace multiple user groups and are in the collective interest of our public spaces across the Northwest. If you know of a local equestrian public space in the Northwest USA run by a board of volunteers, please send them to the Northwest Horse Park Alliance website for more information. The NWHPA is not a full-fledged, 501-c3 equestrian advocacy group YET, but I have dreams of maybe someday. If you are reading this and you're NOT in the Northwest US, do you know of any discipline focused equestrian advocacy groups in your area?

Please, PLEASE, please become a member of your local equestrian park! Become a member of the Backcountry Horseman of your state even if you don't ride in the backcountry! At the very least, find out who owns the public spaces where you ride? Is it federal land? State, county or city parks? Who picks up all the dog poop there? How can you get involved, volunteer a couple days a year or support them financially? If you don't have publicly owned riding spaces, how can you support your local privately owned ones? The future health and availability of that space could come down to you, your friends, and your riding community.

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