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Horses at Home on Public Lands

Taz & Pretty Boy credit Deb Balliet scaled

Photo credit: Deb Balliet

It is becoming increasing difficult to house our horses, particularly in or near urban areas.   In many of these places, horse boarding facilities on public lands are playing an increasingly important role in providing accessible homes for horses.

Public lands cover about a third – 600 million acres – of the 2.3 billion acre land area of the United States.  Public lands are regularly used to house private property and privately owned animals.  Private homes within national parks, boats docked at marinas within parks and protected areas, and cattle grazed on public ranges are all examples of long-term, fee-for-service usage of public lands for private, recreational purposes.

As boarding options diminish, public lands are an increasingly important part of the equestrian landscape.  Public lands are home to lesson programs, trail facilities, competition venues and boarding and stabling facilities.

While little data on lost boarding facilities is available on a national level, reports of boarding facilities lost abound.  In the Washington, DC area, for example, an informal survey conducted by a group of concerned horse owners revealed that more than 45 boarding facilities had closed in the region over the past decade in spite of the strong, equestrian tradition of the region.  However, stables on public lands have remained viable by incorporating horses into parks and other permanently protected lands.

Washington, DC’s Rock Creek Stables is home to 50 horses.  The facility operates on National Park Service Property and is run through a contractor hired by the Park Service.  The facility is tucked into the northwest corner of Rock Creek Park, a national park that runs the length of the city.

Feeder credit Jennifer Keeler Yellow Horse Marketing

Photo credit: Jennifer Keeler, Yellow Horse Marketing

Rock Creek Stables offer boarding, riding lessons and hosts a therapeutic riding program.  It is nestled in a network of shared-use trails that host horses, cyclists and pedestrians and has indoor and outdoor arenas.   Rock Creek has a five-year waiting list for boarding and has a busy lesson program that runs ten hours a day, six days per week.

Rock Creek Stables is connected by a trail network to Maryland’s Meadowbrook Stables, owned by the National Capital Area Park District.  Run by a contractor, Meadowbrook offers a lesson program, a show series and offers boarding to students actively engaged in their training program.

In nearby Lorton, Virginia, the Bureau of Land Management‘s Meadowood Special Recreation Area is home to an equestrian facility.   About 40 acres of the 800 acre protected area is leased  to a contractor who operates a boarding facility, lesson program and provides overall property management services for the 48 stall barn, indoor and outdoor arenas, pastures and fencing, hay storage and other buildings, including a six stall bank barn.  Please see the sidebar to learn more about Meadowood and some of the challenges of stabling horses on public lands.

Across the continent in the San Francisco region, Marin Stables and Trails in Marin County, California maintains a boarding facility for 50 horses on property owned by the Marin Municipal Water District.  The management of the facility is managed through a contractor who works in concert with a nonprofit focused on preserving the historic property.

In Illinois, the Decatur Park District’s Big Creek Riding Center offers hoarse boarding, indoor and outdoor show facilities and wooded riding trails.  The facility also offers riding lessons and summer equestrian camps.

Across the United States, many military bases offer boarding and stabling to active duty and retired military members and their families as civilian employees and defense contractors working in or near their bases.  Boarding on military facilities usually requires a degree of self-care but rates are typically far below market rates for board, usually less than $100 per month.  Additionally, stables on military bases are noted for their strong sense of community and cooperative, family-oriented ethic.

Public lands are a big part of our equestrian landscape.  As development pressures continue to build, they will become still more important to the horse community and the equine industry.