Diminishing Equestrian Landscape
Privately operated equestrian facilities are diminishing at an alarming rate, either succumbing to housing or commercial developments or converting to alternative uses such as indoor soccer or small animal boarding. This trend results in a reduction of boarding options for horses, fewer indoor arenas for riding, particularly significant in a state where winter makes outdoor riding challenging for half the year. Additionally, some families are compelled to part with their horses due to escalating costs.
In the wake of several large barn closures in early 2023 in Jefferson County, local equestrians in the Arvada area started to realize their community was shrinking. As horse people began to look for alternatives to board their horses or to find indoor facilities to ride in during winter, the venue known as the Arvada Indoor Arena came into focus. This facility is owned by the City of Arvada and is leased to a private operator who is supposed to provide public access for riding, but has not done so easily or consistently. The 33-stall barn, attached indoor arena, and outdoor arena, became a subject of much discussion among area equestrians.
Karen Hersh and Michele Hovet, with the collaboration and assistance of local equestrians, horse groups, and various stakeholders in the area, formulated a business plan and established a non-profit organization to propose new programming for the Arvada Indoor Arena in order to offset the deficit of boarding and riding space available. This newly formed entity is now recognized as Community Equestrian. As their networking endeavors progressed, they established connections with the City of Arvada, where they presented their plan to a key decision-maker. While the City expressed interest in the proposal, they are committed to honoring the current lease term. They have signaled their intention to initiate a request for proposal process at the lease term’s conclusion, at which point Community Equestrian plans to submit their comprehensive and formal proposal for consideration.
But the Issues were bigger than one facility
Karen and Michele, through nearly a year of networking and establishing partnerships within the local horse community, as well as with city and county government, received invitations to participate in a broader range of meetings representing the horse community. The Community Equestrian Arvada Facebook Group transformed into a platform for horse activism in the area. Activisim topics include rider safey, land use, loss of boarding options, winter riding options, next generation equestrians and more. To cover more groups and connect more dots in the area, Karen and Michele engaged further in the existing equestrian community. Karen turned to backing the new leadership at the Arvada Area Horseman’s Association, aiding their shift from mere stewards of the Indiana Equestrian Center to a more proactive advocacy role. Meanwhile, Michele has assumed a position on the Board of Directors at the Jefferson County Horse Council. Together, they persist in seeking opportunities to unite stakeholders in their Equestrian Community, aiming to fortify our collective influence at the City, County, and State levels.
Community Equestrian has now evolved into an Equestrian Advocacy role, striving to support and connect specialized horse groups while engaging individual equestrians to safeguard the remnants of our horse community.
Re-Development of Equestrian Properties
The re-development of land often occurs without considering equestrian needs, and with little to no equestrian advocates attending planning and zoning and community input meetings it is leading to exclusion in the development process. This results in changes or restrictions in access to trails and open spaces, poorly designed roads and parking at trailheads for horse trailers, and a general decline in public understanding of how to coexist with equestrians on the trail or in new developments. It is crucial to engage at the city and county levels to address these issues.
Historic horse-centric neighborhoods, characterized by small acreage properties with backyard barns and horse setups, face a dwindling landscape for horse riding, making it unfriendly and challenging to navigate. Streets are getting more traffic, this traffic is going faster way to close to people, bikes and horses, cross walk buttons cannot be reached on horseback, conflicts on open space trails occur with off leash dogs etc. This situation prompts decisions to relocate and leave.
As these pressures continue to shrink our Horse Community, our numbers decrease, putting our safety at risk, diminishing opportunities for children and others to benefit from horses, causing setbacks for horse-related businesses, and jeopardizing our heritage and way of life, which could vanish forever.
This situation is unfolding throughout Colorado, affecting many of our neighborhoods. In Jefferson County we find ourselves at a critical juncture, having experienced significant setbacks, yet still possessing enough ground to preserve and advocate for. We have an opportunity to influence the remaining landscape, making it more inclusive of our Horse Community. Success in our efforts could serve as a model for neighboring counties like Boulder, Douglas, and Larimer, and we can learn from each other. . It is undeniable that the time has come to confront the issue and identify those involved, but the current question before us is HOW we approach it.
How You Can Help
In order to understand what is happening in your community, you need to be engaged. You can follow planning and zoning applications and provide comments asking the developer who they are planning to meet the existing needs of the equestrian community. You can sign up for regional comprehensive planning efforts to get your voice heard on trails, safety and more. You can join your local existing horseman’s groups and meet your community members, there is strength in numbers. Finally you can Join the Community Equestrian Facebook Group or follow updates the www.communityequestrian.org website and take part in any upcoming events by many groups in an efforts to save the Equestrian Space in Jefferson County. If you live in another county in Colorado please feel free to use any of this model to create awareness in your area.
The equestrian heritage in Colorado is diminishing, the time is now to get involved and band together to shape your community with keeping equestrians a part of it.