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Back Country Horsemen of America Chairman Travels East

Although it was founded in the west, Back Country Horsemen of America has truly become a national organization that fights for horse use on all public lands from coast to coast. It has at-large members in 47 states and has 25 member organizations, nearly half of which are based east of the Mississippi River.

Concerned about the status of horse trails in the east, BCHA Chairman Mike Reedy recently visited Back Country Horseman groups in North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. Back Country Horsemen of America has only recently had a presence in that area of the country, but these groups are growing rapidly and eager to do what it takes to keep trails open for horse use.

Challenges to Horse Use on Public Lands

Reedy was impressed with the lovely terrain and the strong horse community in these states. But he also found some troubling trends and situations that severely limit the enjoyment of horses on public lands.

One major problem in Alabama is a change in the general rule regarding U.S. Forest Service lands. It used to be (and in many parts of the country, still is) that horses were allowed on any U.S. Forest Service trail except those designated “stock free.” But the rules now state that horses are prohibited unless the trail is specifically marked for equestrian use.

It is estimated that this rule change leaves this state with less than 10% of National Forest Service trails available to horses. BCHA has agreed to assist the horse users of Alabama in investigating how this change was made and if the legal requirements, such as public input and an environmental impact study, were met.

Not only are trails designated for horse use few and far between in this region, they’re often short and offer limited loop ride opportunities. When horse users reach the end of the trail, they must double back on the same trail or ride along a public road to return to the trailhead. Another unintended result is trails that are more crowded and therefore have a heavier environmental impact.

Reedy is from out west, where public lands are large and the deeper into the wilderness you go, the more horse riding opportunities you find. But on this trip, he discovered that the Appalachian Trail is almost completely closed to horses. Any trails that lead anywhere near the Appalachian Trail are also closed to equestrians. This was a disappointment, as this famous trail traverses 14 states from Georgia to Maine.

One problem Reedy found prevalent in all four states is an extreme lack of basic facilities for horse users. Trailheads that provide hiker parking for several hundred cars force horse users to drive to a different parking lot that has space for only a small handful of horse trailers. Very often, if one or two truck-and-trailer rigs are parked there, it is impossible to get your own rig turned around.

Some trails are marked open for horses, but there is no trailer parking at the trailhead at all. Rules prohibiting horses anywhere but on designated trails prevents a rider from parking elsewhere and riding across country to access a trail.

In today’s world of equal opportunities for all Americans, Reedy was shocked to find no trailhead amenities for handicapped horseback riders, such as ramps to assist mounting. Terry Howell is a Back Country Horsemen of America member from North Carolina who is handicapped and not only rides but also leads a pack string. Reedy asked her how she is able to ride without those amenities. She explained that she must depend on good hearted riding friends who help her mount up.

A National Trails Organization for Equestrians

In his travels throughout North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama, Reedy met many Back Country Horsemen members and answered their questions regarding horse and stock use on public lands. BCHA has also received numerous calls from people in various parts of the country looking for direction and advice about horse use on trails. It’s clear that Back Country Horsemen of America is now recognized as the one national trails organization equestrians need to stand united against the closure of public lands to horses.

About Back Country Horsemen of America

BCHA is a non-profit corporation made up of state organizations, affiliates, and at large members. Their efforts have brought about positive changes in regards to the use of horses and stock in the wilderness and public lands.

If you want to know more about Back Country Horsemen of America or become a member, visit their website: http://www.backcountryhorse.com, call 888-893-5161, or write PO Box 1367, Graham, WA 98338-1367. The future of horse use on public lands is in our hands!

 

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