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Editorial: Equestrian Duties; Proposed N.H. Rule Is Ridiculous

There’s horse sense, and then there’s horse nonsense. If you’re unfamiliar with the latter concept, look no further than proposed agency rules in New Hampshire that would require horseback riders to clean up after their animals while they are on state-owned land.

Proposed by the aptly acronymed DRED (the Department of Resources and Economic Development), the rules will be subject to public hearings Oct. 1 in Concord and Plymouth, and one can only imagine that neigh-sayers will be out in full force to protest. Horse owners interviewed by staff writer Ben Conarck for a story Saturday characterized the proposed rules as impractical and unnecessary. Maybe they were too polite to call them absurd.

According to a DRED spokeswoman, rules requiring owners to clean up manure produced by their animals on public lands have always been on the books. All that’s at issue here is clarifying that horses are covered by the regulation, she said. The agency would also reserve the right to prohibit horses in areas where owners have not complied with the cleanup mandate, or where “there is concern for public health and safety or resource protection.”

Whether there is precedent or not, the proposal betrays a certain lack of familiarity, or maybe sympathy, with the realities of horseback riding. For one thing, horses do not always halt to serve notice that they have answered the call of nature, so riders in motion could very well be unaware that they were in violation. Moreover, it’s unclear what sort of cleanup mechanism DRED envisions riders employing if they do become aware that their horses are out of compliance. It does not seem to serve the cause of public safety and peace of mind to have a phalanx of riders plying the public trails carrying pitchforks. Nor are garbage bags on a galloping horse a sound solution.

Additionally, it’s unclear, at least to us, how such a rule would be enforced and by whom.

As one longtime farrier and horse-breeder suggested to Conarck, the problem perhaps results mostly from a clash of traditional rural modes with newer sensibilities. “Sadly, we are no longer as much of a rural community as we used to be,” said John Hammond of Cornish, who is also a selectman in that town. “People talk about organic stuff and natural and that sort of thing, but they don’t want to see it and they don’t want to smell it.” A couple of the horse owners interviewed noted that the places open for riding in the state are already greatly diminished and expressed fear that the new rules could accelerate that process.

On the other hand, if horseback riding is truly preventing others from enjoying some state-owned properties, perhaps a different sort of solution could be fashioned, one in which organizations of horse owners could enter into formal agreements to oversee voluntary cleanup periodically. That would be far better than imposing rules that appear to be difficult-to-impossible to comply with and just about as hard to enforce. The latter is certainly not a way to foster respect for government, especially in the Live Free or Die state.