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Developing the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource

ELCR's Equestrian Land Protection Guide is now available

By Kandee Haertel

As the executive director of the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource, I am speaking from a bit different perspective regarding horseback riding trails, conservation, and stewardship than what you have heard from the others on this panel. It is only recently that I have found a position that actually pays me for decades of trail use and over ten years of volunteer trails advocacy.

"Few equestrians understand land conservation. Few land conservationists understand equestrians."

The Equestrian Land Conservation Resource was formed in 1997 by a group of individuals who were concerned that there was not enough equestrian representation in the conservation community. Loss of open land was identified by our founders as the greatest threat to the future of all equestrian sport, recreation, and industry. In order to reverse this trend, they felt that education of both the equestrian and the conservation communities and a partnership between these two communities was vital.

This group went straight to the one of the largest conservation organizations in the country for help. That lead to the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource initially being founded as a program of The Conservation Fund based in Washington, DC, a group whose name a few of you seem to recognize. When we became large enough, we obtained our own legal status as a 501(c)3 non-profit and opened our office doors as an independent organization. Yes, we have very strong ties to the conservation community that have strengthened over the years through our National Council members who represent the Land Trust Alliance, the American Bird Conservancy, the American Farmland Trust, of course The Conservation Fund, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, and numerous local and regional land trusts across the country.

The Resource is built on the principles of grassroots involvement and strong partnerships. When local partnership groups can offer common interests to a land manager, access and conservation become a much simpler issue for all parties.

Size of the Industry

So who are these horse people? First of all, the equestrian industry's size must be considered.

How many of you think the motion picture industry is a large one? What about the clothing industry? Is that a large one as well? The horse industry, with its economic impact of $112.1 Billion, yes with a "B", Billion dollars annual covers a vast industry that is larger than either of these.

Here in California alone, the economic impact is $11.4 billion, again with a "B" and 124,400 full-time jobs encompassing 720,500 participants— not including spectators. These 7.1 million people nationally, owning 6.9 million horses, have an economic and voting impact to be reckoned with, particularly now that we are getting together to act as a unified industry. If only one in ten of these horse people become involved in land access and conservation issues, that means that 710,000 people will work to benefit the land. This impact on conservation, both public and private, must be taken into account.

Breaking down the numbers to recreation makes them even more relevant to this Symposium.

The statistic that is probably more meaningful to you as trail people is that recreational activities on horseback have an economic effect of $28.3 billion, our "B" again, and generate full-time employment for some 317,000 people nationally as well as countless part-time jobs in this very diverse economy.

The recreational statistics are impressive, but statistics cannot tell what is actually behind the numbers. These are people who enjoy horses. People who are passionate about what they do. People who want to continue to enjoy their horses out in open spaces— both public and private. People who have networks of friends and relatives. People who are putting their time and money where their passion lies.

Success Stories

Let's review some success stories to give you an idea of what horse people working with partnerships can accomplish. The first one is very impressive with its numbers, as you can tell I like statistics:

A perfect example of successful partnerships is the Back Country Horsemen of America who have donated 420,800 volunteer hours, plus pack stock and in-kind services, having a total value of $8,602,000 during the last five years alone to the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service. As you must realize, the Back Country Horsemen of America was a leader in "putting their money where their hooves were" long before some equestrian groups were founded, including the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource. However, the magnitude of what they have done with their partnerships with these government organizations is such that they must truly be counted as one of our, as trail riders, success stories.

The Caledonia Conservancy in Racine, Wisconsin was founded on the principles of conservation and partnership for equestrians. They have established their own land trust,

which has saved several areas from development, but almost more importantly they are working to maintain the rural character and activities of the area. They have been successful to the extent that some of the subdivisions have organized enough to have a "quick response team" for the Caledonia Conservancy's issues to be able to have a sizeable turn out at necessary meetings, such as zoning, in a matter of hours, not days or weeks. This conservancy was founded by equestrians who, yes, wanted to maintain their way of life, but who also felt that maintaining this rural way of life was a benefit to the community. The Caledonia Conservancy is also largely responsible for introducing smart growth initiatives to their community in the form of open space planned development, not simply more cracker box houses in ordinary subdivisions.

Here in California, a woman near San Diego has developed a group that is conserving a farm that will allow continued use by the local U.S. Pony Club and the public. What began as one woman's determination to save a riding area has lead to a broad-based land conservation local coalition.

Another group "down south" in California is saving a ranch so it can be added to the local state park (and, thus, the state's entire park system) because they also enjoy open space and feel that it benefits their community as a whole. The Virginia Horse Council is amazing in what they have accomplished for trails and land acquisition efforts in their state. The same can be said of Florida's and Maryland's Horse Councils and other groups around the country. Equestrian groups and land trusts are partnering in efforts across the country to save local areas, not only for riding, but because they appreciate the need for conserved spaces.

Trail Riders of DuPage, an advocacy organization located in the metropolitan Chicago area, has worked effectively for the last several years to maintain 350 miles of public trails and open space in one small county. To say that these trails are a special feature of that area's life is to minimize their impact. These trails are almost all multi-use of highest magnitude &endash; from dog walkers, fitness runners, and families walking to sled dogs in training with their flagged golf carts, to llama packers, in-line skaters, mountain bikers, and, of course, horseback riders.

This list can go on and on, but I'm certain you understand the impact of working in partnership with local equestrian groups and land trusts can have on your plans. If you, as fellow trail users and land managers, aren't aware of the impact of the equestrian community, you may be guilty of keeping your head in the sand. Much of today's population is so far removed from the land it's amazing. I've participated in many "horsey" events for the public and still find myself surprised at the number of people who will comment that petting my horse is the first time they've ever even touched a horse.

Ask a relatively small number of people, particularly those who are younger and live in an urban environment, what milk shakes are made of and the answers might surprise you. Take that question further and let them know that this is actually cow's milk and you will gross out and even shock some of the members of your audience. You, in your position of a trail advocate and/or land manager, may be just as guilty as those ignorant of our food source because you, to use a popular jargon, are not thinking outside the box.

The places you want to preserve, be they open spaces of hundreds of square miles, or small historic buildings, all have ties to horses and their riders. Horseback riders are too great in number to be overlooked. If they aren't involved in what you're doing, it may because they don't know about your project. You should seek them out and get them active. They are an asset that should not be overlooked. Partnerships are the heart of the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource and we seek to establish appropriate partnerships where ever we can.

What the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource Has Been and Is Doing.

The primary difficulty that most people who want to "do something" about "something" face is that they don't know where to begin. If that desire to "do something" involves horses and the land, the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource provides them with a resource to turn to.

The operative word in our name is resource. A telephone call, letter, e-mail, or fax to our national office offers them volumes of literature from government and private resources and access to a growing network of like-minded advocates and activists who have faced similar situations. We don't claim to have all the answers, but we do have the resources to find them.

Because we work with both the public and private sectors of land ownership, we have some unique avenues open to problem solving and we share them liberally with all of our constituents.

One of the most effective educational tools the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource has developed is our Equestrian Land Protection Guide. This booklet outlines steps to develop the appropriate team to make a conservation project possible, develop a manageable plan, maximize the resources (both financial and manpower), negotiate various types of agreements, build land owner/manager relationships, and plan for the future to keep what has been achieved. We recognize that this publication is not the complete answer to all questions, but it is applicable to a majority of land situations and gets people involved and started on the process. The Resource is also the name of our quarterly newsletter. It shares information regarding equestrian land issues across the country. A newsletter is the glue for a grassroots organization.

If our constituency feels connected to others putting forth the same types of efforts it keeps them inspired to continue. Only this past April, the EquMarch 18, 2007 Coupled with the newsletter, the growth in membership indicates that the grassroots movement is only waiting for guidance to grow and go forward.

The Equestrian Land Conservation Resource's stewardship education program is a primary effort. The development of a national standard is not a simple one. What works for land in Florida may not be applicable in Illinois or Utah. Likewise, the Bob Marshall Wilderness is vastly different than the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie &endash; both areas allow horseback riding. Chicago and its suburbs have vastly different user needs than some of the backcountry areas of our western states. In order to put together a relevant publication, a group comprised of conservationists and equestrians from all over the country will be the information review committee for this publication. Unlike many comprehensive committees, this one is expected to have a completed publication available for distribution in a relatively short time, reportedly by the end of 2001. In the meantime, regional booklets and articles that will contain more detail pertaining to specific areas will be issued.

Our website,, is undergoing tremendous change and update. A year ago, it told about the organization and presented our equestrian survey. As this talk is being presented, changes to make it an informative, and interesting, site are being made. There will be specific articles on equestrian land issues from around the country. A calendar of events, which I hope will be amazing, especially after the contacts made at this Symposium. A list of links that will be relevant to land access and conservation that is updated often. In short, a site that will make the viewer want to come back on a regular basis to see what is new.

Of immediate interest to the horse community are the initial results of the ongoing Equestrian Land Access Survey. These will be published in the next issue of The Resource and posted on the website. These results were not surprising to those of us at The Resource, but they did confirm what we have always thought we knew: Development, liability issues, and fragmentation are causing the loss of horseback riding and keeping areas and that equestrians are not going to sit back and take it. They understand how important this issue is and many of them are willing to make the effort to join in access and conservation activities. If you would like a copy of this survey, please see me after the meeting or at the booth.

Our Conservation Survey is being initially issued at this conference. This survey will give guidance to the Stewardship Group in their work. This survey will also be distributed at the Land Trust Alliance Rally in Portland next month and then go into publications nationally. The initial results from these two conference distributions will be used at the next meeting of the Stewardship Group. It, too, will be an ongoing survey to gather comments from as broad a spectrum as possible. Please take the time to fill it out and return it to me, the booth, or by mail or fax at your convenience. Believe me, I won't mind if you want to photocopy it or take an extra copy for distribution in something like your newsletter or to give to your local land trust or other suitable user group.

A Brief History of Horses in America.

Horses have always carried the packs and pulled wagons that allowed goods to be hauled. Not only personal household goods, but also the keys to commerce. The very historical beginnings of what we now call "business". For those of you who are younger than me &endash; horses were integral to business centuries before there was e-commerce. Before the invention of the automobile in the late 1800's and the subsequent automobile and truck production lines of the 1920's, horses were our "cars and trucks." This is very recent history when pre-settlement times are considered. Today's trails have strong roots in commerce.

Trails, commerce, and horses are all tied together.

Pre-settlement, to me, means the time in our country from the pilgrims to several decades before the civil war because before then most of this country was pretty empty. It also only generally refers to White man's settlements. The Native Americans were all over what we call the United States before the White man could even be considered. Many Native Americans were fantastic horsemen before the settlers arrived in their lands.

A much more modern example is from one of our growing equestrian sports. As this country's population expanded and moved west, horses increased in value and scarcity. This lead to sharing of horses and a common mode of travel became two people, one horse. This is also the history of today's growing Ride and Tie events. Ride and Tie involves two people and one horse that begin at a given spot &endash; historically, the outskirts of some town or where they happened to meet on the trail &endash; now, the starting line. One human begins running down the trail. The second mounts the horse and races past the first. After a mile or so, the rider stops and ties up the horse. The former rider then continues to run down the trail on foot. Eventually, the first runner catches up to the tied and now rested horse, mounts up and gallops down the trail past his running companion. A way further down the trail, that rider stops and ties the horse and then runs further down the trail. This scenario is repeated until the destination, or finish line, is reached. This enabled humans to cross territory easier and quicker than if they were only traveling on foot. To say nothing of a popular sport that uses miles of trail.

When horses were the major means of transportation in this country, the "gentry" would show off their best horses at every opportunity. This tradition has continued with horse shows of every variety -- from the Olympic level to those held frequently in small barns -- every weekend across this country. Shows that require a piece of land as varied as the shows themselves.

The "cowboy" tradition is very much alive and well, in actuality and in sport. There are still places that ATVs can't go as quickly and easily as horses when it comes to working cattle.

The recreation industry is well aware that all of the rodeo events are major public draws that bring in millions of spectators across the country, and their associated tourism dollars.

Today's mounted patrols come from the Calvary units that fought in too many wars. If you're my age or older, I'm certain you remember the riderless horse from President Kennedy's funeral. That symbolism is a reflection of the public's ties to horses that still exists today.


There is a need to involve today's horse owners with land conservation and partnership efforts so they can preserve what they need to continue their diverse equestrian activities. There is also a tremendous need on the part of land conservationists to build their constituency's effectiveness. Few equestrians understand land conservation. Few land conservationists understand equestrians. This is were the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource comes into play. We are the equal sign in the equation and seeking to help all we can.

There is a diversity of organizations in this room, however we all share the love of trails and the outdoors and that which land preservation provides. We need to respect each others' needs and desires and find ways to partner together. We have more in common than we do in difference. The basic common denominator is that we need land preserved.

Kandee Haertel, Executive Director, has extensive experience in equestrian land conservation that makes her well suited to working with both the conservation and equestrian worlds in promoting ELCR's mission. She serves as a Director of the Horsemen's Council of Illinois, an equestrian representative on the Illinois Greenways and Trails Council, and is a co-founder of Trail Riders of DuPage. She has also served on the Executive Committee of the Illinois Conservation Congress, the Trails Committee of the American Endurance Ride Conference, as Secretary of the Illinois Chapter of Rails-to-Trails and as the President of Illinois Trail Riders. In 1996 she was given the Outstanding Volunteer Award by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for her work in trail blazing the 475 mile multi-use Grand Illinois Trail.

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