American Horse Council Highlights Recreational Riding

On Tuesday, June 22, the American Horse Council (AHC) held its first Recreation Forum in Washington, D.C., to highlight issues of importance to recreational riders. The forum was attended by representatives from national equestrian organizations and state horse councils from around the country, as well as individual recreational riders.

The forum began with a presentation by Stephanie McCommon of the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). McCommon, briefed attendees on AQHA's Stewards for Trails, Education, and Partnerships program which seeks to "increase participation in trail stewardship among equine enthusiasts." The forum continued with a presentation by Dennis Dailey of Backcountry Horsemen of America (BCHA). Dailey spoke on the U.S. Forest Service's Trail Classification System and its impact on equestrians in National Forests.

The forum also included two enlightening panel discussions. The first panel focused on the benefits of equestrians building better partnerships with other traditional recreational users and conservationists. The panel featured Kim Hutson de Belle of the American Hiking Society and Anne Merwin of the Wilderness Society (TWS) as well as Dennis Dailey, BCHA. The panel discussed many important issues including declining numbers of Americans recreating in the outdoors and its impact on conservation, the need to link public and private lands with trail easements, and the challenges equestrians, hiking and conservation groups face when working together.

"The equestrian, hiking and conservation community have many shared interest. I believe Tuesday's discussion demonstrated that these shared interest are being recognized and great progress is being made in efforts to work together," said Ben Pendergrass, Legislative Director of the AHC.

The second panel focused on building better relationships between equestrians and federal land mangers. The panel included Rick Potts, Chief, Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Division, National Park Service (NPS), Bob Ratcliffe, Division Chief, Recreation and Visitor Services, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Jonathan Stephens, Program Manager, Congressionally Designated Areas and Trails, National Forest Service (NFS). Topics included the need for equestrians to build relationships with their local federal land mangers before problems arise, the backlog of trails and facility maintenance, the President's America's Great Outdoors Initiative, and efforts to preserve traditional recreational uses.

The forum wrapped up with Ginny Grulke of the Kentucky State Horse Council discussing the challenges faced by trail riders in Kentucky on the state level and how they have been responding.

"Recreational riding is important to millions of Americans, and these Americans rely on public lands and trails to ride," said Pendergrass. "The AHC believes it was important to bring equestrians, leaders from NPS, NFS, BLM, AHS, and TWS together in Washington to talk about recreational riding and our public lands. We are very happy with the outcome of the Recreation Forum and believe it is a positive step in ensuring recreational riders continue to support and have access to our nation's public lands."

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