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November 30, 2013

N.H. horseback riders mount cavalry charge on state rules

Officials step in it with proposed trail restrictions

New Hampshire officials stepped in a pile of horse manure while making rules about state trail use.

The quick, firm and adverse response from horseback riders, who crowded hearings this fall, forced a retreat.

Officials publicly acknowledged they erred in failing to first get opinions from riders.

“We did not understand the extent of the use and importance of (state) properties to the equestrian community,” the Department of Resources and Economic Development said in a memo prepared for one of the meetings.

State legislators are now pushing a bill, with bipartisan support, to protect the rights of horseback riders to use trails.

“Nothing shall limit the right of the public to pass over any trail in the multi-use statewide trail system for the purpose of horseback riding,” reads draft legislation proposed by Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford.

Horseback riding groups are pressing their legislators to support Sanborn’s bill.

“If Andy Sanborn’s bill becomes law, that will override everything,” said Jane Mallinson of Chester, president of the 40-member Derry Trail Riders.

Mallinson said the rules as initially proposed would have greatly curtailed rider use of state trails.

Riders criticized the proposal for barring them from all but gravel trails or paved roadways.

“The equestrian community rallied against that,” Mallinson said.

The trail rules are still under state review, but gone is a requirement riders said would have forced them to dismount and lug manure from 10 miles deep in the woods.

Riders maintain that not only was unnecessary — manure poses no threat to the public — but also presented safety or injury risks to them from dismounting in remote areas.

Officials, meanwhile, are loosening proposed restrictions riders said would have curtailed trail use.

Riders have estimated the rules, as first proposed, would have limited them to fewer than 10 miles in a popular 100-mile trail network in Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown.

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