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Horse owners say state rules will leave them on unhappy trails

Union Leader Correspondent

September 27. 2013 12:16AM

Sophia Weeks of Goffstown, with her horse Rio, isn't happy about proposed changes to rules regarding riding trails on state land. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER/Union Leader Correspondent)

GOFFSTOWN --- Proposed changes to rules regarding horseback riding on state-owned land have the equestrian community pulling against the reins of what they consider unfair and unnecessary regulations. But the Department of Resources and Economic Development says the rules have always been in place — they're just being clarified.

Sophia Weeks of Goffstown travels to places like Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown or Lake Massabesic to ride her horse, Rio, on the 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."

But Amy Bassett, public information and outreach specialist for the department, said that while the language of the rules may be changing, the substance is not.

"There's a misunderstanding of the rules," said Bassett. "Clarification is key."

Attorney Patricia Morris, whose practice focuses on laws regarding animals, said there are several elements of the rules that concern her and other riders.

Currently, the department's rules state that riding is limited to blazed, road-width trails unless otherwise posted.

The new rules would limit riders to hardened trails that must be at least eight feet wide.

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.

Riders would also only be allowed to travel on trails specifically posted for equestrian use, Morris said, despite the fact that state law allows people to use trails everywhere for various forms of recreation unless otherwise posted.

Folks who drive horses using carriages would be banned from all state trails without specific approval.

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.

"We're not saying that's the only place they can ride," said Bassett. "They can ride anywhere else it's posted for equestrian use."

Manure cleanup

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.

Currently, according to the department, the rule states that hay or manure can't be disposed of on state property.

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.

"Now it's being called out in the horse section," said Bassett.

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.

Equestrian Michael Williams of Stoney Brook Farm in Chichester, said that, according to the new rules, if the regulations aren't followed by everyone, the trails will be closed to all riders.

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.

Bassett said the department has always had the ability to restrict access or usage of state land to anyone when there are health or safety issues at play.

"We're not talking just about horses," said Bassett.

Bad for business

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 Heather Tower said that folks who travel from out of state to ride the trails buy gas, stop for meals, and spend money in other ways while visiting. Limiting the trails would limit that income for many businesses, she said.

"People come from Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts to ride our trails in New Hampshire. They create revenue," said Tower. "I don't think the state is thinking about that."

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.

"I think it's just crazy," said Tower.

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