Horse owners say state rules will leave them on unhappy trails
"Horses need to get out of the ring and ride on the trails. It's natural for them," said Weeks. "And now we're being told we can't use the trails."
"There's a misunderstanding of the rules," said Bassett. "Clarification is key."
Currently, the department's rules state that riding is limited to blazed, road-width trails unless otherwise posted.
By limiting the width and condition of trails, and requiring that the trails be posted, the state is essentially eliminating a large percentage of trails available to riders, Morris said.
But Bassett said horses have always been required to use road-width trails; the department is simply establishing what road-width means. Bassett said the rule isn't intended to limit riders.
Another change to the rules stipulates that owners of horses using the trails or beaches would be responsible for picking up their horse's manure.
Bassett said there's always been a regulation regarding the disposal of animal waste, but it hasn't been listed specifically under the section in the rules that applies to horses.
The requirement to carry out manure poses both logistical and safety issues, Morris said. In order to pick up manure, a rider has to get off the horse, let go of the reins, and somehow transport eight to ten pounds of waste safely out of the parks. Moving the manure off the trail might be a reasonable option, said Morris, but requiring a carry-out policy just doesn't make sense.
According to the department, the new rule states: The department may prohibit horses and other work animals in areas where such animals are permitted when the department determines there is a lack of compliance to this section by animal owners, or there is concern for public health and safety or resource protection.
"We're not talking just about horses," said Bassett.
Heather Evans, owner of Follow Your Dreams Farm in Derry, said that having direct access to the Rockingham Rail Trail is a big draw for her fledgling business; losing the right to ride would hinder her farm's growth.
Equestrian Patricia Koschek said the financial ramifications of the proposed changes would also affect the sale of horse properties throughout the state, and would reduce the income of businesses that sell equipment and supplies for horses.