So I may have missed #GivingTuesday with this blog, but in the spirit of the season I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on some of the amazing non-profits which I have had the opportunity to be involved with this past year. Any or all of them would be worthy recipients of a seasonal donation, should you be so inclined. Alternatively, choose a group that YOU believe in and support, close to your own home. Donations don’t have to be monetary (though I am sure that is always appreciated)…donations of goods and services often also fill a need. And so many non-profits rely upon the dedication and commitment of good volunteers. Really, there is just no excuse to not get behind a cause that is important to you!
Earlier this year, I wrote a piece for UnTacked magazine about Detroit Horse Power, a 501(c)3 nonprofit founded by David Silver. DHP’s mission seeks to use horses to provide opportunities for Detroit’s underserved youth, and in the long term, to establish an equestrian center within city limits which will provide the residents with a center for community events and equestrian services. The story of the path which led David to the creation of DHP was really inspirational to me; I have so much admiration for people who identify a problem, see a solution, and then actively set themselves on the path to put the plan into action, despite some seemingly insurmountable hurdles. You can read more about Detroit Horse Power here or visit their website at www.detroithorsepower.org.
The United States Pony Club is still a group near and dear to my heart. USPC states as its mission that it “develops character, leadership, confidence and a sense of community in youth through a program that teaches the care of horses and ponies, riding and mounted sports.” USPC is represented by its graduates in many walks of life, from the upper levels of equestrian sport, to related fields such as veterinary medicine, to leadership roles in various equestrian organizations. Perhaps as significantly, USPC graduates cite their experience as Pony Clubbers as being influential in contributing to their success in other, non-equestrian, ventures. Visit www.ponyclub.org to learn more.
The Equine Land Conservation Resource(www.elcr.org) is one of the most organized and effective advocacy groups supporting the cause of equestrian land preservation. Since 2007, the organization has assisted in protecting more than 200,000 acres of land and more than 1,200 miles of trails. They maintain an online resource library, with free information on topics such as conservation tools for horse lands, best management practices, and more. The ELCR keeps tabs on local threats to equestrian access across the country, and helps to provide solid facts and figures to present to key stakeholders. Through their partnership with My Horse University, the ELCR provides free webinars on topics such as manure management, developing a private trail system, and more. As a community, we MUST be attentive to the long term management of public and private lands which allow equestrian use. We can all list places where we used to ride; once equestrians have lost access, it almost never returns.
Just recently, I had the chance to write a Charity Spotlight on the Standardbred Retirement Foundation for an upcoming issue of UnTacked. This group was founded in 1989 by two women closely affiliated with the Standardbred racing industry, and since its inception they have helped to place over one hundred horses per year. As with many racehorses, some animals are left with injuries and other limitations which make them unsuitable as riding horses; the SRF will retain ownership of these animals and provides them with care for the rest of their lives. The organization remains involved with all of the horses which it places, requiring twice yearly follow ups on the animal’s health and well-being, signed by the owner’s veterinarian. In addition to saving literally thousands of horses in its twenty six year existence, the SRF has assisted with programs for at-risk youth, exposing them to the sweet, gentle personalities of the Standardbred horse. Executive director Judith Bokman commented in her interview with me that their limiting factor, always, is funding. With more funding, they could take in more horses and expand their youth programming. To learn more, visit www.adoptahorse.org.
Finally, an introduction to All Better Pets, a Manchester, NH, based nonprofit with the mission of providing care to abandoned and homeless pets. This organization is affiliated with the Center for Advanced Veterinary Care, a small animal emergency and referral hospital. Many of the animals which come to the clinic are in need of medical attention for treatable conditions; without intervention, however, euthanasia would be the only option. Since 2010, the organization has helped over 200 animals get well and find new homes, and has provided assistance to hundreds of others through affiliations with other groups. I am a little partial to All Better Pets because my cat, Nieva (nee Willow) is an alum. She is pretty much perfect. Visit www.allbetterpets.org to learn more.
These are just five worthy organizations for your consideration this holiday season. Please comment with information about YOUR non-profit organization of choice. Even small donations add up, and in this season of giving please do not forget to consider the importance of supporting the efforts of these grassroots groups.
Paddock Paradise: a Guide to Natural Horse Boarding by Jamie Jackson
C 2006 Star Ridge Publishing, Harrison, AR, 122 pages
Paddock Paradise has been in my library for a few years (please see previous book reviews in which I confess to being a book hoarder). I have come to believe that the ideal horsekeeping situation is one in which the animal can come and go as they please, rather than the model which is conventional in most boarding stables where horses are turned out for a period and then returned to their box stalls. Here at Cold Moon Farm, my horses are out 24/7 with access to run ins. I was interested in this book to learn yet another different perspective on the subject.
Author Jaime Jackson is an advocate for natural horse care practices, from boarding to foot care to feeding. His work has been inspired by personal study of wild horse behavior and ecology, as well as his own experience. In Paddock Paradise, Jackson provides readers with some background as to where his ideas originated, outlines a model for the ingredients of a Paddock Paradise, and concludes with a successful real world implementation of his system.
Jackson outlines a “day in the life” of a wild horse herd, covering in some detail topics such as herd dynamics, the search for water, food, salt licks, and shelter, as well as the role of predators in determining the herd’s habits and behavior. He emphasizes that their search for food keeps herds nearly continuously on the move, and that the overall quality of their forage is poor. Jackson also observed the condition of the wild horses’ feet and concluded that their nomadic lifestyle, covering all manner of terrain, assisted in keeping their feet even and strong.
Inspired by his observations, Jackson began to brainstorm a model for domestic horse keeping which would “create a living space that suits the equine mind” (Jackson, 2006, p.63). Jackson compares the conventional model for horse keeping to an “equine internment camp” (Jackson, 2006, p. 13); in contrast, he has named his alternative system “Paddock Paradise”.
“The beauty of the Paddock Paradise model is that, through a unique fencing configuration—adaptable to most if not all equine properties—and strategically applied stimuli, it “tricks” the horse into thinking he’s in wild horse country, “paradise” in other words. Instead of resisting natural movement, he willingly engages in it. Through stimulated natural movement, he becomes healthier, and this is our major goal.”
–Jaime Jackson, Paddock Paradise, 2006, p. 63
Jackson’s book provides a basic outline as to how a farm manager could convert their property to be a “paddock paradise”. My (extremely) short synopsis is that one would take the existing paddock and install a line of electric fencing on the inside, about fifteen feet away from and parallel to the perimeter. The space in between fences becomes the “track”. The next steps include scraping away most grass and then installing any of a number of “features” which will motivate the horses to move around the track. The features one chooses to install may be influenced by the existing terrain, amenities and resources available, but the ultimate goal is to use “Paddock Paradise as a means of getting horses out of stalls, conventional paddocks, and other modes of close confinement that simulate “predator” environments that are so harmful to the mental and physical well-being of horses” (Jackson, 2006, p. 68).
The entire notion of Paddock Paradise is a bit revolutionary, and I can’t say that I am 100% on board with all of the conclusions regarding domestic horse care that Jackson has drawn from his self-study of wild horses (one example is his suggestion that horses are best fed a mix of grass-type hays and unsweetened oats in small quantities, as this most closely mirrors a wild horse diet). However, I do fully applaud his ability to look at the conventional beliefs regarding domestic horse keeping through a different lens. Just because something is “the way we have always done it” does not mean that it will forevermore be the best technique. Taking our “business as usual” ideas and holding them up to a lens to assess whether they can sustain the scrutiny, to me, is never a bad thing. We don’t have to embrace every new idea or notion, but certainly keeping an open mind to possibilities can allow us opportunities to integrate bits and pieces into the systems which we are accustomed to.
Jackson released an updated edition of Paddock Paradise in 2016. His website expands on some of his ideas regarding natural horse care and provides examples of “real world” approaches to creating Paddock Paradises in a variety of different climates and topographies. I was surprised to recognize after reading this book how many references I have come across to facilities with a “paddock paradise”, or people seeking same. It would appear that in certain communities, Jackson’s “revolutionary idea” has inspired further creative thought.
I would recommend this book for people who have an open mind to alternative perspectives on horse management and to people who already embrace holistic approaches to horse care—but also to those who are pretty secure in their beliefs regarding conventional techniques, so that they can better examine them and look for areas to more closely align our human expectations of horses with the inherent “equine nature” which they all possess.
This piece is adapted from an assignment I did for a course about the value of wilderness in society; hence the references to the impact of equine presence in designated wilderness areas. However, I think the concerns discussed herein occur in many other areas where equestrian access is permitted alongside other users.
The horse is a bit of an enigma in American society. They are classified as livestock, yet treated by most as companion animals, which leads to constant conflict in decision making. People are simultaneously drawn to them and fear them. An enduring symbol of the American West, the mustang inflames passions on all sides of the arguments which arise in reference to their “management”. Horses and civilization have gone hand in hand since between 4,000 and 3,500 years BCE, when they were first domesticated on the Asian steppes. It would seem to follow that little to no taming of the American wilderness would have been possible without the horse.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 has ‘grandfathered’ the use of horses and pack animals in wilderness areas, despite the fact that their use gives mechanical advantage to the rider. Allowing livestock in these areas is hardly an unprecedented event. In fact, many existing trails were built on those created by free grazing livestock. Many of the lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management are still grazed by livestock, on leases which can pay pennies on the acre.
In a 2012 article from the National Parks Traveler , Kurt Repanshek reported on a court ruling that the use of horses and packing within the Sequoia National Park was in violation of the Wilderness Act, because the Park had failed to study the impact of the increased use of pack animals on the area. Quite interesting is a casual read through the comments reacting to this article, which sum up some of the same arguments we equestrians hear time and again:
“…trails that are being pounded to death by hooves, eroded to dust and cobbles, and buried in manure…”
“…stock trails require a higher standard and more expensive maintenance, so the NPS essentially subsidizes this very small user group…”
“Apparently, the NPS has no problem with horses trampling and destroying nature, but if cyclists want to have access to national park trails, somehow, trail erosion becomes an issue. Oh the hypocrisy!!”
Like any user group, horseback riders come with their positives and their negatives. To be truthful, I have little experience with the use of horses in true designated wilderness areas, but I have some experience with their use in national and state parks and other public areas. In spite of my inherent bias as an equestrian, I still feel that the benefits of allowing this traditional use on these lands outweigh the detractors.
Let’s start by looking at a few facts…
First, horses are Big Business…this is not a “very small user group”, as our detractor put forth above. According to the American Horse Council (2005), there are 9.2 million horses in the US, and the equine industry has a direct economic effect of $39 billion annually. Billion. With a B. The industry pays over $1.9 billion in taxes per year to all levels of government. Over 70% of horse owners live in communities with a population of less than 50,000. And the vast majority (just under 4 million) of horses are not racehorses, or show horses—they are used for “recreation”. With these numbers, it is clear to see that we are not talking about some insignificant user group.
Secondly, manure is not a public safety hazard. Americans are truly the most poop-phobic people. It is really ridiculous. From a 1998 white paper prepared by Adda Quinn for Bay State Equestrians (CA), “Horse manure is a solid waste excluded from federal regulation [by the EPA] because it neither contains significant amounts of listed hazardous components, nor exhibits hazardous properties…No major human disease has ever been accurately attributed to the intimate contact human beings have had with horses for thousands of years…The chemical constituents of horse manure are not toxic to humans. Horse guts do not contain significant levels of the two waterborne pathogens of greatest concern to human health risk, Cryptosporidium or Giardia, neither do they contain significant amounts of the bacteria E.coli 0157:H7 or Salmonella” (Quinn, 1998).
Historically, equestrians have been allowed access to trails in many public and private land holdings, but in the past seventy five years, those areas which continue to allow for this use have been dwindling. It is perhaps all the more frustrating when the loss of use occurs on public land, because in many cases recreational use is one of the reasons why such lands have been set aside.
In 2009, the AHC responded to concerns from the recreational use equestrian community that there were an overwhelmingly large number of trails on public lands being closed off to equestrian use. The Washington, DC, based organization, which is the most significant lobbying body for the equestrian industry, surveyed members regarding their experiences with federal land use. Issues were in particular identified on lands managed by the National Park Service and the US Forest Service, but also those managed by the BLM and US Fish and Wildlife, with problems cited including lack of maintenance and lack of access through trails closed to equestrian use. Frustrations abounded, especially when the rationale for the closures was not known.
From the report, “An initial examination of restricted access reports reveal that in most instances there was a clear history of equestrian use. Furthermore, in only a few examples of restricted access was the respondent aware of any public process or public comment period associated with the trail closure. Respondents in some cases are aware of a stated reason for restricted access for equestrians. However, in a number of instances the respondent is unaware of any reason behind a closure.”
What is ironic is that some of the closures/restrictions in access have occurred on public lands given with the full intention of equestrian use. Most notable are the carriage trails in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, ME. These roads were built by David Rockefeller with the intention of being available for equestrian use. In regards to these restrictions, one respondent wrote, “There is a portion of them still open to equine use and there is a concession offering carriage rides and allowing access for people to bring their own riding horses for a fee. But this access is only on a portion of the carriage roads…I live very close to one section …that has been closed to equine traffic. I have requested information from Park Administration as to why this has happened and if there is any way to open the closed areas…I have received no reply from them. In order to ride the carriage roads that are less than ½ mile from my stable I now need to trailer my horses twelve miles one way and pay to park my trailer. There are numerous horse owners in close proximity to me that would benefit from access to our traditional riding areas.”
And while I don’t deny that horse hooves can cause damage to trails through over use, and agree that horses should be restricted from unique and sensitive ecological areas, horses are not the only user group which can leave a mess in their wake. Another respondent states, “The problem is not that BLM is actively denying trail access to equestrians. The problem is that BLM is not regulating motorized use of trails. The motorized users have caused so much damage (rutting, erosion) to the trails, they have become unusable for equestrians.”
It seems clear that there is conflict over the use of horses in some areas of federally managed lands. Sometimes the issues are direct, such as degradation of trail quality through equestrian use. Sometimes they are less so, and manifest in terms of lack of funding for trail maintenance, causing lack of access, or conflict with the needs of other user groups, such as hikers. However, it is equally true that those who enjoy riding horses out in the open, the way that they historically have been, are passionate about doing what is necessary to ensure that access is not further restricted.
Why Equestrians Need Public Land Access…and why Public Lands Need Equestrians
The reality of being a rider in the modern US is that more than likely, you must pay a fee equivalent to a small mortgage to board your horse at a public stable. Fewer people than ever are able to have the luxury of the land and space necessary to properly maintain horses, and as open land has become somewhat of a premium commodity in populated areas, the cost of being able to do so even at a boarding stable has skyrocketed.
Without trying too hard, I can name a long list of facilities which used to be horse farms, even right here in the seacoast of New Hampshire. Running a horse farm is a labor and cost intensive affair, and some owners have simply grown tired of the grind. But many more were unable to afford to keep their properties, for many reasons. Flat, open land is often taxed at a premium, making it hard to break even when you add in the equally high cost of the production of hay, grain and other consumables. Once these farms were converted to subdivisions, mini malls or similar, they never have returned to a natural state, in my experience.
In New Hampshire, programs like LCHIP (NH Land and Community Heritage Investment Program) have purchased the development rights to many long standing farm properties, effectively dropping the tax rate and preventing future development of the land. Proper and sustainable management of these farms will ensure at least pockets of open space for generations to come.
The fact is, if equestrians wish to enjoy the privilege of riding out in the open, they simply must step up to educate and advocate for the preservation of lands in which such activity is permitted. The Equine Land Conservation Resource (ELCR) was founded nearly a decade ago for just this purpose. From their website , the organization’s vision is “A future in which horse lands have been conserved so that America’s equine heritage lives on and the emotional, physical and economic benefits of mankind’s bond with the horse remain accessible to all.” The ELCR has been involved with the protection of more than 200,000 acres of land and 1,200 miles of trails. Through their education and outreach activities, the ELCR has assisted horse owners in doing their own outreach and educational campaigns within their local communities. The ELCR reminds us that the USFS estimates that we are losing 6,000 acres of open lands per day and that “poorly planned, uncontrolled development or sprawl, competing demands for land, and a population that is increasingly unfamiliar with horses are the greatest threats to equestrians and horse lands today.”
The preservation of wilderness within the United States was at least partially due to the young country’s quest for an identity. The American West became a symbol of the vast lands which this country had in its borders. Horses are indelibly linked to this heritage, and their use as a means to access far away and isolated areas is unparalleled.
I cannot even begin to describe some of the amazing places I have had the opportunity to visit via horseback, both in the US and abroad. Obviously I have a love of the horse and of riding in general, but for me, there is almost no better way of reaching remote and far away areas which only rarely are visited by humans. On foot, at best I can walk a few miles per day. On horseback, I have gone forty or more.
Horseback riding is a way for our country’s citizens to learn to appreciate and enjoy amazing natural areas, without need of roads, tramways or cable cars. Horseback riding gets people outside, and if the need to protect trails is what motivates these citizens to be active proponents of protecting open space, so be it.
The equine industry is a large and powerful user group with a strong motivation to protect and preserve open space and lands which permit equestrian use. It would certainly behoove those interested in protection efforts to consider their needs and recruit their support.
Celebrating the incurable addiction which is being an equestrian