Horse owners give officials an earful – and a whiff – over trail rules proposal
State park officials got an earful yesterday afternoon from horse riders who fear proposed rule changes to trail riding will ruin their hobby – even the state of New Hampshire.
“I understand a lot of people come from out of state to ride horses here in New Hampshire,” said Sen. David Boutin, a Hooksett Republican who said he’s fielded complaints from many constituents. “If they get even the perception that we are changing the rules to make it more difficult to ride here, they are going to go somewhere else.”
The rule changes being considered would require horse riders to dismount and clear manure off riding trails, and would limit their riding to hardened trails at least 8 feet wide. Riders could go on more narrow trails only if the trail was posted as open to horses.
Rules already require animal waste be removed from trails, but horse riders said it’s never been enforced. And all trails on state land are open now unless posted as closed.
State Parks and Recreation Director Philip Bryce began a 1 p.m. public hearing yesterday apologizing to the nearly 100 horse enthusiasts before him for not fully appreciating the implication of the proposed changes on their hobby.
After listening to 31∕2 of testimony – and agreeing to smell baggies of horse manure – Bryce thanked the crowd for its comments. “We learned much,” he said.
Bryce and his colleagues at the state Department of Resources and Economic Development held a second hearing in Plymouth last night and will hold three more public hearings this week and next across the state.
They are also taking comments by email and mail until Oct. 24. Bryce will also meet with members of several horse groups Monday evening at DRED’s office at 172 Pembroke Road to further discuss the rule changes. That meeting is also open to the public.
Bryce said those comments will influence what the final rules look like.
“What we did not want to do was make a restrictive change after (the process) was closed to public comment,” Bryce said. “These rules are not final. Whatever we do, we are going to do with the full knowledge of the people in the equestrian community.”
DRED began hearing from horse owners late last month, shortly after unveiling changes it is considering to state park rules. The changes would affect many things – fishing on the Seacoast, geocaching and pets on hiking trails – but it’s been the equestrian community that has responded the loudest.
Bryce reiterated the state’s position that the proposed changes are meant to clarify – not change – the rules governing horse activity at state parks. Horse owners disagreed vehemently yesterday.
Lynne Yeaton of Loudon, like many others, said it would be incredibly unsafe for her to dismount her horse on a trail in the woods to kick manure off the trail. Many horse riders in the audience said they need a mounting block to get atop their horse – something they wouldn’t have along the trail. They also said they can control their horse most safely from atop it.
“To have a person dismount is asking for an accident to happen,” Yeaton said. “You would have ambulances coming all the time to your parks if you did that.”
Joann Lytle of Concord said she moved from Boston to New Hampshire because she wanted to buy a horse and ride. Her taxes, she said, help support the state parks she fears she will no longer be able to use.
“If you push us out (of the parks and) into the road, we are going to get hit by cars,” she said. Several other people said they are routinely harassed while riding on roads by drivers who beep horns, swerve close to them or rev their motorcycle engines.
Carol Karakoudas of Deerfield said she’s ridden at Bear Brook State Park, one of five state parks in New Hampshire open to horses, daily for 25 years. She has seen increasing restrictions on her ability to ride, she said, but believes these go too far.
“These rules are unfair, unnecessary and shortsighted,” she said.
Several riders said they’ve never seen a requirement that a horse trail be at least 8 feet wide.
Becky Bennett, who owns 42 acres in Pembroke and rides with her husband and daughters, came to the hearing with three baggies of horse manure – one fresh and the others a little older. She, like others, reminded park officials that horse manure is biodegradable and, in their opinion, inoffensive.
“Feel how light it is,” Bennett said, handing park officials a “Day 2” baggie. “And Day 3 . . . it smells just like you cut your lawn,” she said.
DRED Commissioner Jeff Rose declined Bennett’s offer to take a whiff. But Bryce obliged.
For information about the other public hearings or how to submit comments in writing, visit nhstateparks.org and click on “Who We Are.” When the new page loads, click on “Division” and then “Proposed Admin Rules.”
Comments can also be emailed to Leanne Lavoie at Leanne.Lavoie@dred.state.nh.us.
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)