Horses are American as Apple Pie
By Terry H. Martin, Ph.D.
Thank you for honoring Cattaraugus County and me this past year for a decade of work getting New York State's first ever County level equestrian initiative started. It has been just one among many other projects and has been a labor of love with a lot of uncertainty. That is why it touched all of us so deeply when you gave the Cattaraugus County Legislature and its departments the special Equestrian Leadership Award. This work has included the County's political Leadership, Planning Board and Department of Economic Development, Planning & Tourism, as well as numerous businesses, municipalities, community groups, citizens and consultants. I was privileged to be the County's project manager for this work.
I also want to thank you for giving me the surprise of my life this past year by making me the state Horse Council's Horseman of the Year for 2005. Many people know that I do not ride horses because of a back problem, and they were surprised that the New York State Horse Council would give me such an honor. Yet we should not be surprised if we take a closer look.
The New York State Horse Council took a forward-looking step when it recognized that equine and equestrian communities are dependent on a larger society. Non-equestrians are needed as much as horse owners and riders to sustain a growing equestrian economy in New York State. The Horse Council's decision also sent the appropriate message that horses are not just for the wealthy classes of society, but for all Americans. Horses are as mainstream as apple pie.
American history was built on horses for several hundred years during the westward expansion before replacing them with the internal combustion machine. In spite of this historical change in the status of horses from yesterday, horses have now re-bounded and are again a fast growing part of national, regional and local economies, only in a new and different way. Outdoor recreation trails, horse riding and horse related events and facilities are becoming as popular as other recreational activities for Americans as we begin our journey into the 21st Century.
People who do not own or ride horses are needed to sustain the growth of equestrian economies without even knowing it. They do this when they protect agriculture, open space, wilderness areas, watersheds, and when they build multi-use trails and even when they revitalize old rural villages. They do this when they take children and grandchildren to equestrian festivals and for horse back riding lessons, when they start horse related businesses, run for elected office, and support what Diane Jones calls the “equestrian lifestyle” as an integral part of community life.
This was the case when my path crossed that of the New York State Horse Council beginning in 1999. At the time, as the County's project manager for County level visioning work, I was trying to convince the New York State Horse Council to support Cattaraugus County's trails work. But, unknown to me, George King, Diane Jones, Bob Pfohl and others in the leadership of the Horse Council were watching with some interest what we were doing in Cattaraugus County.
By 2005, Cattaraugus County had spent ten years developing and gaining a near consensus on a countywide vision for the future which includes protecting our open space around Allegany
State Park in the southern half of Cattaraugus County, and the Zoar Valley watershed in the northern half, and preventing urban sprawl and strip development over greenfields by clustering new development and re-directing it whenever possible into villages and cities and along major highways. This new vision also promotes development of a countywide trials network over time. This work has included meetings, community focus groups, surveys, grants and research.
By 2005, this work had produced a coherent vision of Cattaraugus County's future, with supporting visions for building outdoor recreation trails, using villages as staging areas for trails, and growing the equestrian economy in Cattaraugus County. Cattaraugus County published a series of visioning guidebooks called “Smart Development for Qualities Communities” that gained recognition from the Governor for its Quality Communities contribution, from the American Planning Association for visioning, and from a smart growth advocacy group of retired professionals called Partners for A Livable Western New York. All along we have encouraged horse and business owners and riders to organize and work together towards a common benefit.
The horse community took to this new trail with a gusto. They were always here, but were uncoordinated and unaware of the value of working together, both equestrian and non-equestrian. All they needed was recognition, encouragement and some assistance. We were astonished at what happened next. Between 1999 and 2006, the following accomplishments came to fruition with help from a variety of people working in support of this vision of the future:
The Cattaraugus County Legislature created a countywide Equine Committee of horse and business owners to coordinate and market activities in the County, and published a study of equestrian opportunities in the County. This was done under the leadership of County legislators Jerry Burrell and the late Jess Fitzpatrick and Tom Livak, director of the County's development department. Scott Miller of the Cattaraugus County Business Development Corporation manages this committee and offers business development services for horse related businesses as a new priority. The County also hired the SUNY Buffalo Law Clinic as a consultant to do legal research on how easements can be used to protect trails in perpetuity as new development slowly spreads across our rural landscape.
Franklinville has started an annual equestrian festival called the “Creekside Roundup” and has created approximately 30 miles of horse trails in the rolling hills around the Village of Franklinville under the guidance of chairperson Al Gerstung. They are holding their fourth annual equestrian festival this weekend. It holds other events in the different seasons including auctions. The village and town obtained funds to build a park and outdoor arena near the Creekside Roundup, and began researching Horse Heritage Tourism as a way to market their community's rich history as a horse-driven economy in the 19th and early 20th centuries, which still has many features of that earlier economy in the village's design and buildings. A group of historians from upstate New York held their annual meeting recently in Franklinville, which featured its horse history and tours of historic interest.
The Little Valley Riders Club celebrated its 50th year and has hosted its third annual “Ride and Learn” weekend with an average attendance of over 200 horses (which is now generating new revenues for the club), under the guidance of club President Teri Parker. The riding club has built its own outdoor riding arena for shows, competitive events and exhibitions on its grounds. Members and visitors frequently use approximately 75 camping sites near the new arena. This is only seven miles from the Ellicottville ski and golf resort, Allegany State Park, and the Seneca Nation casino in Salamanca. The club has more that 65 miles of privately operated horse riding trails in the hills around the village. The Crosspatch Ranch, a member of the club, gives riding lessons, offers trail, carriage and diner rides with day and overnight options. The twelve mile Pat McGee Trail intersects the Little Valley Horse Park and is open from April to October of each year.
The Cattaraugus Local Development Corporation took the lead on converting a twelve mile, abandoned railroad right-of-way into a new multi-use trail. Today, the Pat McGee trail runs from the City of Salamanca through Little Valley to the Village of Cattaraugus (which is home to the LDC). This trail was acquired and built in record time under the leadership of the CLDC's President, Rick LeFeber with the Village of Little Valley sponsoring grants that were needed to build the trail. Cattaraugus County assisted with the research, packaging and grants administration. This trail opened two years ago and is used in all seasons by a variety of users including snowmobiles in the winter and horses in the summer. The CLDC, snowmobile clubs and the Little Valley Riders Club all protect and help maintain the trail.
The Village of Little Valley is working on new local plans to revitalize the foot of Main Street, which intersects with the twelve mile Pat McGee Trail. The County hired internationally renowned rural design expert, Randall Arendt to assist several villages including Little Valley to come up with new design ideas to maximize open space, historic and equestrian features. The County also obtained a Quality Communities grant to assist these Villages in gaining community-wide consensus for implementing these plans and strategies. Plans are being discussed on activities that could link the 180 year old County Fairgrounds on the other side of the village to the Little Valley Horse Park using the Pat McGee Trail. It has over one hundred horse stalls with 4H and other horse traditions.
The New York State Horse Council, with help from the Little Valley Riders Club, Cattaraugus County and many other people, formed a new Chapter of the New York State Horse Council for Cattaraugus and Chautauqua Counties. Under the leadership of the its first President, Cathy Canni and its current President, Leah Leising, this new Chapter has sponsored and organized many events, started a regional newsletter, and supports efforts to build and maintain trails, obtain grants and educate people about horses. Barney Weber, a member, has created over 24 miles of trails with 30 volunteers and the NYSDEC Forester. These trails are located between the Village of Randolph near the Allegany River and Onoville Marina. They have hosted riding events, and are talking with Cattaraugus County about building a future trailhead on a plateau overlooking Onoville Marina.
The New York State Horse Council held its annual meeting in 2005 at the Elkdale County Club in Cattaraugus County. This meeting gave many members of the statewide council an opportunity to visit other attractions in Cattaraugus County such as Allegany State Park, the Ellicottville ski and golfing resort, privately owned horse stables and clinics, and the Villages of Franklinville and Little Valley. This event gave us, for the first time, a clear sense of the value of coordinating activities between The Little Valley Riders Club, the Pat McGee Trail, and the nearby Elkdale Country Club. We were delighted at your visit.
Diane Jones (the Horse Council's President Emeritus) and I were invited to sit on the Governor's Quality Communities Roundtable in the Fall of 2005, which was held at the famous Chautauqua Institute on the shores of Chautauqua Lake near Lake Erie. Diane Jones gave an excellent presentation on the economic value of equine and equestrian communities, showing that it is growing rapidly and will soon be larger than the state's dairy industry. My presentation was on village revitalization and using villages as staging areas for multi-use trails including horses. Lt. Governor Mary O. Donohue presided and stated that one of the surprising highlights of the roundtable was learning how important horses and trails can be in creating Quality Communities in New York State.
In conclusion, we all need to create a broader network in support of this work in New York State. Maybe even non-equestrians can be helpful! I have attempted to share with you in this presentation how Cattaraugus County is attempting to do this and hope that other counties will be motivated to initiate similar efforts across New York State. Our economy and everyone in it will benefit from equestrian activities in the long term, not just people who own and ride horses. If you will pardon another pun, we're all on this ride together!
The Horse Council knew what it was doing when it gave recognition to non-equestrians. The County's visioning work was started and encouraged by people who do not own or ride horses. Then trails advocates and the equine and equestrian communities began actual projects to implement this vision of the future. They have taken equine and equestrian activities in Cattaraugus County to new levels of success and they are just beginning to get started.
NOTE: For more information on Cattaraugus County's guidebooks and vision of the future, go to CattCo.org and click on Guidebooks for Cattaraugus County. Go to Volume 4 on Outdoor Recreation Trails for summaries of the County's visioning work:
Appendix 1: A Vision Framework for Cattaraugus County, New York
Appendix 2: Proposed Equestrian Vision for 2025 - Step Into the Future
(also published on page 13, NYSHC's newsletter, July-August 2004 edition).
Inside Back Cover Volume 4: Latest list of the County's eight guidebooks.
This presentation was given at the annual meeting of the New York State Horse Council at Longfellows Hotel and Conference Center, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., September 30, 2006).