Letter: Recreational horse riders on sharing local trails

We all have a right to enjoy [open spaces], and we are all stewards. The key is compromise.

To the editor:

As our population increases, the interface between urban and rural expands. One such interface is the use of public trails.

Controversies can develop as we share these natural spaces. Recently, a vigorous discussion has developed around the presence of horse manure on certain mixed use Okanagan trails. There has never been a better time to address this issue, and lay groundwork for future understanding and cooperation in all BC communities.

Some of today’s hikers and walkers may not know that a great many of the trails we all enjoy were originally blazed, built and continue to be maintained by equestrian groups like the Back Country Horsemen of BC and other clubs, working with government and stakeholders to create safe natural environments for all users. Sections of the Trans Canada Trail, the Collins Overland Historic Trail, the Dewdney Historic Trail and many more are the result of hard work and dedication by cooperative horsemen. Equestrian clubs, often joined by cyclist clubs, continue to contribute hundreds of volunteer hours to trail maintenance and expansion.

Horses contribute directly to the communities in which they live. The horse industry in British Columbia generates over $740 million dollars in economic activity, supports more than 7,200 jobs and provides over $31.2 million dollars in employment income (source: Horse Council BC Equine Industry Study, 2009). Properties near horse-friendly parks and trails command top dollar, and generate considerable tax revenue to municipalities. Horse-related tourism is on the increase, and BC’s natural beauty and renowned trail networks are bringing tourist dollars to high profile and easily accessed areas like the Okanagan. It’s in all our interests to keep this economic growth happening, for the good of our communities.

Of the concerns that non-riders have about manure on trails, many are aesthetic, and some are environmental. Is horse manure a source of pathogens dangerous to humans? Does horse manure pose a threat to soil, and does it promote noxious weed spread? The answers, according to current studies by institutions such as UC Davis-Tulare and the University of Colorado, are encouraging. Manure is not pathogenic for humans. Noxious weed seeds, although sometimes present in horse manure, have not thrived in scientific studies using real conditions on the sides of trails. Horsemen strive to avoid weeds in the hay they grow and purchase, and in pastures. Horse manure, an excellent natural fertilizer, is not harmful to soils, and is beneficial to plants.

What are other communities doing to resolve this issue? Many are consulting with local horse groups before enacting regulations, trying to get it right the first time. They are asking equestrians to ride off the centre of the trail, and to dismount and scatter their horse’s droppings to the side, away from water sources, where safe to do so. This prevents buildup and allows wind and rain to quickly convert manure to nutrients. While not all riders are able to dismount and scatter, those who can, do. Lawmakers are acknowledging that the fundamental consideration is always safety – bagging manure and carrying it with you on horseback is not always a viable solution. Other communities are working with local horse clubs scheduling cleanup bees on high traffic trails. Horse manure has a monetary value; it can be bagged and sold as a fundraiser, or binned at strategic locations and offered free to gardeners.

The natural world’s open spaces are not sterile environments. Isn’t that why we all want to get out and be part of those landscapes? We all have a right to enjoy them, and we are all stewards. The key is compromise. Entrenched positions, exclusion and unworkable rules are not the answer. It’s time to put consultation, cooperation and creativity back to work.

Nancy Spratt, recreation coordinator,

Horse Council of B.C.