On a recent trail ride in Cave Creek, outside of Phoenix, Arizona, the need to preserve riding trails, not only in natural areas but in our own backyard, was once again brought to my attention.
Riding with trails preservationists and Cave Creek residents Terry Smith and Don and Cathy Peterson, who have mapped trails in the Cave Creek area and beyond, I was struck by their passion for incorporating horses and Western lifestyle into their community. I wondered what more can we do to ensure we can continue to ride into the wild blue yonder and beyond.
I don’t often find a place where you can still ride your horse into town, but you can do it in Cave Creek (which is also the headquarters of True West magazine).
We rode our horses to the Buffalo Chip to get some lunch. This restaurant and dance hall has hitching posts in its large, back area, appropriate for tying up your mount while you grab some food. We passed several riders, out for a Saturday ride through the washes, amid neighborhoods where people still keep horses at home.
As an East Coast resident, used to riding trails in the woods of Connecticut, it actually wasn’t that odd to be riding through the washes between people’s backyards. It was odd to do it in the Southwest, a place that conjures up images of Sonoran desert cacti stretching as far as the eye can see, painted deserts and cowboys conquering canyons.
My ride in Cave Creek made me appreciate even more the communities that strive to preserve open space and the opportunity to ride freely. I chose the ride so I could highlight this horse-friendly community in our series Equitrekking®. As I rode along Schoolhouse Trail, beside a road with cars whizzing by, I thought about the people I know who want, or need, to be near a city, but still want the space to ride.
As I travel the world, I get to see what it’s like to live and ride in other places and what people are doing to hold fast to their riding trails around the globe.
In Iceland, most of the population lives in and around the capital city of Reykjavik, meaning that land to ride in Iceland is not a problem. The society is extremely horse friendly, having a horse trail that runs along parts of its main highway, corrals outside of restaurants and shops, and weekend horse events that are watched with similar enthusiasm to football games in America.
In El Rocio, Spain, the town’s streets are left unpaved to accommodate horses and horse-drawn carriages.
In parts of Ireland, you can still ride from town to town or to your local pub.
In all of these European destinations though, land rights laws and permission to ride in certain places are also an issue.
All over the U.S., organizations and communities spearhead efforts to ensure that there is space to ride—and breathe!
In Wyoming, ranches like The Hideout at Flitner work hard to keep their large tract of land free of commercial development and keep their cattle operation alive by preserving the land in Shell Valley.
In Greenwich, Connecticut, a sprawling town close to New York City, the Greenwich Riding and Trails Association has been working since 1914 to preserve open space and riding trails.
I get this positive news amid the negative news that many ranches are closing their doors and selling off land. Communities just like Cave Creek are fighting to keep horses in the mix. So what can be done?
Organizations like the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource (ELCR), a non-profit dedicated to preserving land for horses and riders, work on a national basis to educate the public on how to actively save land from development and help out horse communities. Deb Balliet, CEO of ELCR, suggests that people “participate in their local community planning and zoning process to get to know their local trust and planning resources, and become knowledgeable about land conservation.”
In places like Cave Creek, it’s people like Terry Smith who work so hard to rally the troops and keep horse issues in the forefront.
From a high point on the trail, Terry turned to me and said: “Cave Creek is an area where it’s wide open riding, and the town has the protection for the horse people. That’s what we fight to keep.”