My Worry About The Future of Riding

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One of the grave concerns I have about American culture is that our country?s ever-increasing suburbanization will have an increasingly negative influence on horse keeping. I worry that it's an unstoppable tide that will make keeping horses ever more difficult.

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Fewer than 5% of Americans live in a rural area, and most of that remaining 95% rarely has any real contact with livestock or wildlife. Tens of millions of Americans have never walked (let alone ridden) through a forest. Many have never fed an animal, so they have no understanding of animals. Obviously, then, fewer horse owners will have that awareness in the future, too.

Since they don't understand the cycles of life, more horse owners will see what should be just a normal physical setback in a horse's life as a tragedy. Yet, they?ll see no tragedy in a new subdivision of 2,500 houses where cattle or horses used to graze or where woodpeckers, owls, deer, groundhogs or snakes used to live.

That same field could also have been a valuable hay field, producing several tons of hay each year. that's why my fear for the future of horses doesn't involve a housing crunch?horses already live in suburbs and even in cities?but a feeding crunch. And it's going to hit all of us who own or train horses. Every time a subdivision gets built near Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, or Boise, it means there are fewer fields to produce the hay and grain we need. We're losing 6,000 acres of agricultural, forest and other open land each day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Rick Potts of the National Park Service is a member of the Advisory Council for the Equine Land Conservation Resource, where I'm on the Board of Directors, and few years ago he wrote an article for an NPS publication that conveyed a similar fear.

Rick wrote, ?We must reframe our thinking about the relationship of people and the land. Today?s generation of activists, advocates, and professionals in the land-preservation business largely share formative experiences they gained 20, 30, 50 years ago. We cannot assume that today?s generation thinks or feels the same about the land, because many of them are not having the same close experiences with land that we had when we were growing up.?

His conclusion' We?ll never be able to protect forests or agricultural land if the majority of Americans don't value that land and actively support its preservation.

that's a warning to all of us who ride and enjoy horses: We have to raise our children and teach our students to value the places where we keep our horses and where we ride.

We have to teach our children to not see a valley like the one I see as I look out my window as 100 potential home sites or a shopping mall, but as a place where we live with our horses and (in our case) with birds big and small, deer, a multitude of smaller creatures, and with top predators like coyote, bobcat and mountain lion.

that's quite a challenge, and it's why it's time to start shouting this message from the roofs of stables and the centers of riding rings all around the country: ?Land use and preservation is the most important issue facing horse owners in the 21st century.?

John Strassburger, Performance Editor