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Easing into Easements

- January 16th, 2023
Trail easements will allow equestrian access to strips of land which can connect larger trail networks or just allow the continuation of a rural trail.

How trail easements support equestrian access

By Laurel A. Florio / courtesy of ELCR.org

So many aspects of equine activities, such as sport horse training, ranching, or recreational riding, rely on large areas of land; be it for grazing, riding arenas, turn-out or, to a smaller degree, trail access.
Sometimes land-locked areas provide fabulous multi-use opportunities for riders to enjoy the trails. However, access often is restricted to trailer parking gateways, so the need for trail access over privately-owned land is essential to equine use. The lack of this access can minimize trail availability.

Access to Land
Community conservation is a catchphrase that highlights the benefits of land conservation for an entire community. For example, the conservation of a farm benefits not only that landowner but the entire community by providing open space, aesthetic, and natural beauty values. Similarly, the concept of community conservation can lend itself to the establishment of trail easements over private lands, highlighting the communal engagement necessary to maintain trail access and the bucolic nature of the area.
Many private landowners may be willing to conserve specific areas of land for the exclusive use of trails or trail access. The coming together, for example, of a rural community to encourage linking trail easements to accommodate such access is common. To make this happen, landowners will grant a conservation easement over a trail (trail easement) allowing access to larger trail networks or just the continuation of a rural trail. Conservation easements are very common over large swaths of land and are becoming more common to protect the strips of land making a trail network.
The landowner can donate to an organization the strip of land to be used for the trail easement or the conservation easement over it. Likewise, some organizations may pay the landowner for the conservation/trail easements to ensure continuity of the trail whether to a specific trail network or as a stand-alone community aesthetic. Trail easements are used to provide access over private land and held by a conservation organization or even a municipality or governmental agency.

Establishment of the Trail
A conservation easement over a large parcel of land will be written differently from a trail easement. Although both will have specific provisions regarding longevity (perpetuity usually) and other legal and contractual sections, two of the most important aspects of trail easements are its purpose and location. A trail easement is usually a network of strips of land over many different properties that are connected to provide access to a greater trail network or exist for recreational use in the community. Its purpose is straightforward — recreational use — but it can be qualified as non-motorized, multi-use, or even equine-only. Of course, some trail easements permit multi-users (pedestrians, bicyclists, motorized vehicles, and horses), and the users must learn to respect each other and strive to provide a peaceful and safe experience for all. Usually, the trail is posted with acceptable uses, thus making it very clear to all. And, often the more types of users, the more volunteers are available for periodic maintenance and trail improvements.
Secondly, the location of the trail easement is very important. Community conservation is the ideal way to bring together the landowners to establish and map the intended trail easements. Coupled with one or more conservation organizations willing to hold the trail easements and ensure their protection, the design and location of trails will determine their viability as a recreational asset to the community. Additionally, the actual physical location of the trail is important, as the better the footing, the better the experience for all users. Mud in the spring may garner rocks in the summer. The location of the trail itself can make or break the project and the success of the intended network over time.

Each state has its own laws pertaining to conservation easements, which are directly related to the establishment of trail easements. Horse-centric organizations can partner with conservation organizations to establish trails for equine use only or include other groups for multi-use recreation. Each conservation or trail easement is established under the laws of the state in which the land resides.
Although there are many template examples of such easements used throughout the country, each must be tweaked to adhere to state law. The online resource Model Grant of Trail Easement with Commentary from WeConservePA is such an example. Some of the most important things to consider when writing a trail easement are:

  • Access points, trailer parking and boundary lines to prevent encroachment onto private property outside the bounds of the trail
  • Footing to prevent erosion (natural or other)
  • Trail maintenance and upkeep (volunteer teams or the organization holding the easement)
  • Perpetual or fixed term of years and if the latter, renewal
  • Signage, trash, and safety
  • Trail etiquette
    Additionally, it is imperative that both landowners and conservation organizations engage local legal counsel familiar with conservation easements to ensure adherence to local, state, and federal laws.

Examples of Trail Easements in Communities
The Green Mountain Horse Association (GMHA) Trail System in Vermont is an excellent example of community conservation and equine trail use. This system consists of over 100 landowners participating in the establishment of 400 miles of multi-use trails, most of which are located on private land. Landowner permissions for equestrian access are about 15 percent permanent trail easements. The remainder are licenses, which remain in effect indefinitely, but can be revoked by the landowner at will. Many landowners in this area prefer licensing because it does not impose restrictions on the rights of future property owners. These landowners often allow other uses, such as snowmobiling, hiking and mountain biking.
GMHA, by virtue of its mission, offers easements that address equestrian use only. Additional use permissions or easements can be established on the same land as the GMHA easement, but for some landowners this gets complicated and can lead to user conflicts or awkward relationships with other user groups. The decision to establish a permanent trail easement is generally a matter of the heart of the landowner; there is no financial or tax advantage in a linear trail easement. Those who have done it receive their compensation in knowing that they have done their part to preserve equestrian trails for the future, even if the trail is a multi-use trail. A system of this size generally thrives on multiple user groups, thereby enhancing the concept of community conservation and involvement beyond just equine use.
The use of perpetual trail easements has been proven to successfully retain both a system of accessibility as well as community in many horse-centric areas threatened by development and diminishing farmland in different parts of the country.

Local land trusts, other conservation organizations, and some local government entities are usually familiar with the process. They can provide both legal and technical assistance to groups seeking to retain or establish a trail network with the use of trail easements. The Equine Land Conservation Resource www.elcr.org can provide additional information and contacts.
Faced with the loss of land or access for horses and riders, these resources continue to influence and inspire necessary change to ensure horse-related communities will survive and thrive for the benefit of this and future generations.


Additional ELCR.org resources for easements:

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — With three confirmed cases of non-neurologic EHV-1 over the weekend at the Desert Circuit hunter-jumper series in Thermal, the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park has cancelled the Feb. 19-20 SoCal Ranch & Slide event.

The show is the first of four 2022 ranch riding and reining competitions scheduled at the Orange County venue, and it marked the first western events ever scheduled at the venerable facility known for hosting world-class hunter-jumper competition.

“Out of an abundance of caution due to the EHV-1 equine virus and for the safety of the horses, the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park has canceled the Feb. 19-20 western show,” announced management of the SoCal Ranch & Slide Series, Orange County-based Track One Events.

Track One Events added that the second western show in the SoCal Ranch & Slide Series, set for March 5-6 at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park, remains on schedule.

Additional info on the show series: https://www.trackoneevents.com

Additional coverage of the EHV outbreak at the Desert Circuit: https://bit.ly/ehvdesertcircuit


Trails are Common Ground

- November 2nd, 2021

ELCR joins coalition launching nationwide trail etiquette campaign

Courtesy of ELCR.org

Horses and bikes finding Common Ground on the trails. (ELCR.org photo)

Any recreational trail user will tell you there are more people on the trails than ever before. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, automated counters at trail systems around the country recorded four times as many users compared to the same time frame in 2019.

Up to the Challenge

- November 2nd, 2021

BURBANK — The region’s top reining horses and riders returned to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center Oct. 26-31 for The Challenge, California Reining Horse Association’s pinnacle event of the year. Warm weather greeted equally hot performances during the show.

From Horsetrader sales staff

An exciting horse sale on this fall’s calendar is the Nov. 6 West Coast Ranch Horse Rendezvous Sale at the beautiful Tucalota Creek Ranch. Managed by XIT Western Productions, this sale will bring 35 head of high-quality ranch horses that “are ready to be your next partner.” The sale will specialize in horses that are show-ready or are great ranch horse prospects. There is a consignor application process and a selection committee to ensure only the cream of the crop are offered. The sale will take place alongside a series of events over the 2021 WCRH Rendezvous weekend Nov. 4-7. As for the show, the WCRH Rendezvous will include ranch horse clinics with Sami Hernandez, Cowley Performance Horses and others, a two-day ranch horse show, ranch horse futurities, a silent auction, wine and cheese reception, vendors, and a banquet dinner with live cowboy music from Eric Gorsuch. There will be a saddle awarded to the Top Hand of the weekend, division buckles, trophy knives, trophy stirrups and more! The sale preview will be held with the wine and cheese reception at 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 5, and the sale will take place at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Hite gets it right

- November 2nd, 2021

$100,000 Interactive Mortgage “Ticket To Ride” Grand prix concludes series

Laura Hite and Calypso VD Zuuthoeve soar to victory in the $100,000 Interactive Mortgage “Ticket to Ride” 1.50m Grand Prix. (Amy McCool photo)

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Laura Hite and Calypso VD Zuuthoeve put the final exclamation point on an exciting season at Blenheim EquiSports with victory in the $100,000 Interactive Mortgage “Ticket to Ride” Grand Prix on Sept. 25.

Saddling up in San Marcos

- November 2nd, 2021
Horse Heritage Conservancy board members Lynne Malinowski (left) and Dawn Haake set up the TOVEA booth before the 15th Annual Ride & Stride event in San Marcos. (Horsetrader photo)

The Twin Oaks Valley Equestrian Association in conjunction with the Horse Heritage Conservancy brought together current — and future — equestrians to the 15th Annual Ride & Stride Oct. 17 at Walnut Grove Park in San Marcos. The event encouraged the “two-legged” contingent to join in and bring their other best friend to stride a three-mile loop through the valley on City of San Marcos trails. Participation in this event helped the Walnut Grove Equestrian Park, a rare gem in the heart of the Twin Oaks Valley.


- November 2nd, 2021

By Sheryl Lynde | Horsetrader columnist

I don’t know you, and you don’t know me.

We dress differently, we are of different ages, different backgrounds and reside in different states and countries. But for a moment, just a glimpse in time we can find a commonality. I know a place where we can connect and share a space together as we ride on the back of a horse.

Season of success

- October 1st, 2021

SCRCHA wraps up super 2021 at Green Acres Ranch event

Craig and Rosie Cowley enjoy a win shot moment after winning first and third, respectively, in the SCRCHA Limited Open Hackamore standings. (Danger Dingo photo)

TEMECULA — Smiles, great runs and beautiful weather were all part of the Southern California Reined Cow Horse Association’s final scheduled show of 2021, the September Classic.

Blenheim action at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park in San Juan. (Amy McCool photo)

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Two business groups with different visions for the 40-acre Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park made respective public presentations Sept. 21 to the City Council, as ongoing discussions continued toward the beautiful facility’s future.