Will Rogers spoke of how he wished he was alive before the barbed wire, when you could ride freely across the open range. He thought barbed wire was bad. Well, it's a good thing Will has not tried to ride through Newport Beach, California recently. Cheryl Skidmore of Costa Mesa, CA did ride a trail in Newport Beach this month and she was given a ticket. Not a speeding ticket, but a citation because her horse did what horses sometimes do (if you catch my drift). Cheryl said she cleaned up the manure with a manure rake, and the code enforcement officer saw her clean it up. But three days later she received a citation in the mail.
Newport Beach is currently concerned with water conditions and the impact of water drainage on the ecological system. Although the code for which Cheryl was sited, 7.20.020, appears to relate more to dogs, the officer didn't think so. The ordinance states that owners of pets must clean up after them. Cheryl was also cited for 7.20.030, which states that if you are guilty of breaking the other infraction you are guilty of an infraction. Who ever wrote this law probably worked for the Department of Redundancy Department!
Wait, it gets better! So besides riding her horse on a quiet and peaceful trail, what was Cheryl doing there? While being cited for her environmentally insensitive infraction, she was educating the public on environmental awareness. Cheryl Skidmoore works as a city contractor for several southern California cities, teaching Ecological and Environmental Awareness.
Newport Beach is not the only city with similar laws, but few have used them to cite equestrians. Lucedale, Mississippi (population 2,592) has an ordinance requiring all livestock, including horses, sheep, cattle, goats, dogs, etc., to wear a diaper while in town. That sure would have put a cramp on Lassie's style. Crab Orchard, Kentucky recently passed an ordinance requiring diapers on all horses, much to the chagrin of the large local Amish population.
Will Rogers would roll over in his grave if he knew horse diaper companies are starting to pop up everywhere. But none have yet to go public or sell stock. I would love to drop a little money in them as most major cities now require carriage companies to provide a diaper for their horses. Soon they will be available in trendy colors with matching blankets and leg wraps.
Signs have recently gone up on the trail in Newport Beach, quoting fines as high as $500. Local residents have also put out trash cans to assist with the poop patrol, but with code enforcers wearing white gloves, as Cheryl learned that may not be enough.
David Kiff, an Assistant City Manager, was quoted saying, "I just can't look the other way with horses."
The silver lining to this story is the Orange County Equestrian Coalition paid Cheryl's citation, which now entitles her to a hearing. Cheryl said she was also contacted by a member of the Backcountry Horsemen of California, offering assistance and support. At her hearing on January 20, the Arbitrator declined to deliver his verdict for 10 working days, so no one knows how the lumps will fall for Cheryl. This will raise a real stink in other equestrian communities, who fear other cities will follow the same practice.
Support for Cheryl seems unbridled. When I asked President Tom Anderson of the Equestrian Coalition how far he was willing to take this, he refused to speculate until he received the actual results of the hearing. But I get the idea it is going to hit the fan.
Mr. Anderson told me that last November his organization spent a day cleaning up the local trail and creek bed and what do you think was the most commonly found visible pollutant? You guessed it, those little plastic bags provided by the city for dog owners to pick up their poop. Not only that, the plastic bags are non-biodegradable. Thus taking the most biodegradable substance on earth and preserving it for thousands of years.
There is a lesson to be learned for all equestrians and it is found in the words of the Bob Dylan song, "Times they are a-changin." Either we sit back and ignore the change as if it is not happening, and awake from our stupor to find more ordinances. Or we take action and join organizations like the Orange County Equestrian Coalition and the Backcountry Horsemen of California, who get involved to preserve our equestrian trail access and land usage.
For some reason the poem "Suppose" by the English poet Walter De La Mare comes to mind.
Suppose...and suppose that a wild little Horse of Magic
Came cantering out of the sky,
With bridle of silver and into the saddle I mounted
To Fly-and to fly.
Forgive me for doing it such an injustice of adding my own conclusion
Suppose and Suppose what would
Happen says I,
If something occurred while my
Horse and I did fly,
The lights and sirens
Ended my Flight.
When the Pooper Scooper
Patrol mailed my cite.
All silliness put aside this has become a serious matter for equestrians.
The phone number for the Orange County Coalition is (714) 998-6865.
The website for joining the Backcountry Horsemen of California is http://www.bchc.com/.