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Hunters & Horseback Riders: Why We Should Just Get Along

Sharing public or private riding space with hunters in the fall is a reality of equestrian life, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a hot-button issue with strong opinions. Sara Shelley makes a case for why hunter and riders should really just get along.

Flickr/Montgomery County Planning Commission/CC

Fall has come again…

Welcome, misty-mornings, colorful leaves, pumpkin spice coffee, homemade donuts, and the unpleasant discovery that the children’s coats and sweaters have shrunk, because, of course, I refuse to believe they’ve grown that much over the summer.

This is my absolute favorite time to ride.

In upstate New York, with that dazzling fall foliage when the sun is shining, there’s just no place I’d rather be than riding my horse in the middle of the woods with the bright leaves rustling all around me.

Great food, amazingly beautiful scenery, oh, and hello sweaters and boots, I’ve missed you! So, everything should be coming up candy apples and pumpkin seeds, right?

Nope.

Because of one big fall-happiness-evaporator — the thing responsible for bursting my autumn-revelry-bubble is….

hunting season.

When your main equestrian activity is trail riding, hunting season can present a sticky wicket. Researching this article turned up numerous forums with quite firm opinions in the form of “Hunter vs Rider.”

I feel bad for any group that gets shoved into a “category” just because a few of its members are lu-lu-birds… but trying to remember that we humans usually see things the clearest within the limited view of our own perspectives is hard — especially when we’re passionate about something.

And so, my fellow equestrian friends, try to read the following with open hearts and minds:

A rider must ride, and…. a hunter must hunt.

As he waits all year for these few short weeks (or months, depending on where you live) many hunters argue that riders should be grateful to enjoy the land for the whole rest of the year and just leave the hopeful marksmen be during the season.

For my part, I don’t venture into the woods when the orange vests are about, but that’s just me. (Any other members of Worry Warts Anonymous here?)

And so the long, loooooong hunting season in upstate New York ensures that my horse is super clean, my tack is super clean, my barn is super clean, as well as the consumption of many apples (and donuts, to balance out all that health) and a dreary wait. It’s a bummer but I’m used to it, and I’ll survive ’til post season.

Some of you have competitions you’re training for, or just don’t want to sacrifice that much time off the trails, and there are probably a few things you do to remain safe while sharing the woods with eager hunters and startled deer — like perhaps clipping bells onto your tack. Bells serve the dual purpose of alerting hunters to your presence as well as getting you in the mood for Christmas, which is good, since that bad boy’s right around the corner!

Then there are many options of orange and reflective wear, such as halters, helmet covers, rump sheets, and lots more. Be safe, people!

And whether hunters mind you trotting through the woods — perhaps scaring his quarry — depends on the hunter, but it goes without saying that should you encounter one (a hunter, not a deer) a quiet, polite nod or greeting is the best option as you ride along.

Interesting fact: we tend to get grumpy about those “Bambi-killers” taking over “our” trails… however, without them, our federally protected and maintained state forests, lands and wildlife would disappear.

And here’s why. According to a report by the Animal Use Issues Committee of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (and exhale… don’t worry, the next time it’s abbreviated): “Hunters pay a truckload of special excise taxes. The Wildlife Restoration Fund […] collects these taxes […] and apportions them to state natural resource agencies for conservation and education, which includes: habitat restoration, shooting ranges, wildlife research and more. Annually, this program delivers more than $481 million to the states and territories of the United States, with more than $292 million of it for sport-fish restoration and more than $188 million of it for wildlife restoration.”

IAFWA President Brent Manning says, “It takes money to conserve and restore habitat and wildlife […] sportsmen are the single largest source of conservation revenues.”

So yes, hunting season for the avid trail rider usually does represent a frustrating lack of saddle time. Trust me, I know!

But looking at it from the hunter’s perspective and realizing the HUGE economic impact they have on wildlife and land conservation, I find I’ve got a better attitude towards hunters this year.

Is every hunter a kind, responsible sportsman? I think not. But I know plenty of not-so-kind equestrians too.

I hope this year more riders and hunters can just appreciate that each is pursuing his own passions, give deference where it’s due, and enjoy successful outings, whether in the saddle soaking up the fall scenery… or up a tree, searching for that buck of legends.

Go riding.

My name is Sara Shelley, I’m a not-quite-forty-year-old (next month I’ll dive into that fun decade) mom of three, recovering perfectionist, (the struggle is real) freelance writer, random-fact-hoarder, and of course, horse-mad woman.

I’m not a horse-show gal at this point in my life. And though I got my first horse at fourteen years of age, I was thirty-five when I competed for the first time. (with a different horse of course…RIP Magic-Sugarfoot) Took home the blue, (does it matter there were only three entries? Bah) and crossed that dream off the bucket list. At least for now.

Anybody who’s spent any significant time with me is likely to have heard the phrase; “I googled the heck out of it,” or, “thank God my husband does laundry,” and, “If fried food were nutritious I could be sooo healthy!”  I love writing, reading historical fiction, brushing my horse until she gleams, (show-sheen addict, in the house) everything OTTB, watching random documentaries and making people laugh.

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