In addition to our expensive horse hobby, we have an expensive Jeep hobby, too. We have a modified Jeep Wrangler and love to go off-road. Some of you may know that off-road trails across the country have steadily dwindled as certain interest groups have pushed to have them closed to “protect the environment.” I guess that’s not surprising, since a few off-roaders have given us all a bad name. What is surprising, however, is that the same battle is being fought over horses. That’s right; there are many, many people out there who want to deny trail access to horseback riders. Believe it or not, one of their most frequent arguments is that horses are bad for the environment. Their hooves tear up the trails and their manure brings in foreign plant seeds, among other things. I’m sure they have other complaints, but we’re still kind of new to this issue.
The important thing is, if we want to be allowed to keep riding in our own national parks, we have to take action. Trails across the country are being closed just because someone complains, or brings up an environmental concern, and no horse people speak up. I suspect it’s simply because, like us, horse owners are not aware that this is happening. By the time they find out a trail is closed or about to close, it’s too late.
We recently joined a group in our area, the Southern Appalachian Back Country Horsemen. It’s a local chapter of a national organization, Back Country Horsemen of America. These groups, local and national, keep track of current events affecting trail riders and their members do what they can to keep the trails open: writing to government leaders; challenging efforts to close trails; keeping good relationships with their local Forest Service; participating in trail cleanups and maintenance. I urge you to look into an organization in your area, and do what you can to help keep trail riding alive. If we don’t fight, we’ll eventually lose all access to public lands. That would be a shame.