Keeping Horses in the City

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When I was a kid, it was easy to take off from our family farm and ride on trails for four to six hours at a time, packing a lunch and stopping by more than one creek along the way so the horses could drink. Friends rode over from neighboring farms, and we had an incredible amount of fun.

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Today, it's very different. My family calls it ?keeping horses in the city.? THere's only one other farm within riding distance, and we barely know one another. The air traffic has increased dramatically since the early ?70s when my dad bought the place, and we're on a main path toward the airport. I remember leading in a mare when the Blue Angels took a practice flight right over the pasture. It was not a pretty sight. (Well, the jets were pretty, but not me trying to hang onto that horse.)

Motorbikes and ATVs are everywhere ? the nearest trail is over-run with them ? not something I want to meet on my already too spooky horse. In the winter, they morph into snowmobiles. Plus, tHere's an underground main gas line right along that path. We've all been issued ?Emergency Plan? information packets about what to do if the line explodes (like I'd have time to find it, let alone read it, if something went wrong).

I keep reading that house-building is down nationwide. Not here. The field next door is full of would-be country folk. Except for a narrow buffer of trees, we would see right into their backyards. Now, I just see rooftops and hear the parties and traffic. Our old ?racing field? ? a beautiful flat field we used to gallop in as kids ? is now home to many new streets. I like to think the one named Shetland Place is somehow in memory of us, a bunch of happy kids on very fast ponies.

As far as street noises go, our horses are as unaffected as police horses. The busy road, backfiring trucks and the sounds of neighborhood kids screaming and playing are all so normal that they won?t even look up from their grazing. (But I left a sweater on the water tank yesterday, and our chestnut had a cow).

Still, though, I like that we have city water, natural gas and, of course, electricity. We're still on a septic, but I would happily trade that in for a sewer line, so I could do more horse laundry at once. And I don't have to worry about bathing the horses and running the well dry, nor do I need to have propane trucked in for heat.

But we need more nearby areas to trail ride. We are blessed with parks that allow horses in, but we need to trailer to them. I realize we're lucky that there are several places close enough that we can drive there, ride and drive back in a day.

But it would be nice to just mount up and ride out on a manicured riding path, like the ones I remember from my years in Middleburg, Va. They were maintained by hunt clubs and most were on private lands that gave the clubs permission to ride over them. This is why I think more folks should consider options like the Ask Horse Journal letter writer (page 15). We need to work together to preserve open land. I won?t be here 50 years from now, but I certainly hope trail riding is still alive and well and easily accessed.

Cynthia Foley

Editor-in-Chief