In the early summer of 2017, Ontario Equestrian (formerly the Ontario Equestrian Federation) was asked to support a large group of equestrians who were passionately concerned that they were on the verge of losing access to large portions of the Dufferin Forest Trail System. The Dufferin trail has been used by equestrians for many years and has become a destination for equestrian trail riders across south-western Ontario.
Throughout the summer season, this community met and discussed their interest and commitment to the forest in the hopes of restoring access to single track trails that had been restricted to Cyclists only through the Dufferin County’s Recreational Use Policy passed on May 17, 2017.
After a rocky start, this committed group of equestrians worked together and with Dufferin County Forest staff to create a new plan that will balance everyone’s needs and interests.
Pam Coburn, OE’s Director of Sport, participated in many discussions over this past summer working to not only understand the specific interests of this group and what the OE could do to provide support to them, but also to create a meaningful role for OE in supporting trail users across Ontario.
Through years of surveys, we know that approximately 50% of our 22,000 members are regular trail users, with varying frequency.
Trail riding is not only a wonderful recreational experience but it’s a way for even the more competitive riders to enjoy a wonderful relaxing day outdoors, while letting their horse just be a horse.
One of the challenges for the equestrian community is that, for many of us, trails are a destination – we bring our friends, plan the day, and may travel a significant distance to get to our trail of choice, while trails are often under the jurisdiction of local or regional municipalities who are used to consulting on matters like this within their local area. If it’s a “numbers game” of how many locals use the trails for cycling, hiking or horseback riding, equestrians will always represent a very small interest.
The opportunity for Ontario Equestrian is to help keep our broader equestrian community advised of these important local discussions.
Municipalities face the challenge of communicating with their constituency through local media, town hall meetings, etc., to manage their trail assets – they have a tough job of balancing all of those potentially competing interests, so it’s important that we find a constructive way of working within that fabric.
After a difficult, but productive summer, we have firmly re-established our commitment to supporting our recreational members, many of whom are trail riders, through the following initiatives:
- We are completing a Trail Riding Safety Guide that will be available to our members on our website early in the new year;
- We will be organizing a series of Trail Safety Workshops to be run out of our office to start, and potentially brought to communities where the interest and opportunity exists; and most importantly,
- We will continue to advocate for access to trails by our members across Ontario
We’re pleased to have been invited to meetings by Simcoe County staff who are currently reviewing their Recreational Policy.
Our best advice to equestrian trail groups is to encourage you to stay in touch with each other. Establish a role or point person to stay in touch with the municipal and regional staff that are responsible for your local trails; you want to be able to get involved early in the discussion, understand the issues and call on us for support where you believe we can be of help.
For more information regarding OE’s commitment to trail safety and accessibility, please contact Pam Coburn, Director of Sport: firstname.lastname@example.org.