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New report causes stampede of fear for coastal horse community

As the National Park Service crafts its plans to revamp the hilly landscape of Montara on the San Mateo Coast to better accommodate bicyclists, hikers and camping — there is a rising fear among area’s ubiquitous horse lovers that they’ll be shoved out.

The fears were recently inflamed by a newly-obtained draft plan created by the National Park Service, showing plans to re-shape the area and potentially reduce the area’s stables and population of horses.

“All the plans, all the consultants reports, all of them have no option for keeping all the horses,” said Larry de Young, President of the Coastside Horse Council, who obtained the park service’s draft plan through the Freedom of Information Act. “They all reduce the number of horses.”

The hillside rising above the Pacific Ocean has been horse territory dating back before its inclusion in Mexican land grants. The area is pockmarked with ranches, including four commercial horse boarding facilities permitted to house more than two-hundred horses. The ranches are loosely connected by a series of trails which serve as the stomping grounds for horse riders, who maneuver the trails flanked by sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.

“It’s where I go to get peace after working,” said Kristi Eifert, a horse owner who boards her horse Tuxie at nearby Hawk Tail Ranch. “It’s where I get to spend time with my beautiful horse that’s part of my family.”

While the nearly 4,000 acre area known as Rancho Corral de Tierra was long-established for horse-riding, a sense of unease set-in for the horse community in 2011 when the land became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Not long after, the National Park Service announced its intentions to improve the area by making it more hospitable to a cross-section of visitors with new programming and facilities. Plans also call for designating areas as campgrounds.

The draft plan recently sketched out by the National Park Service suggested potentially consolidating some of the four ranches, and possibly shrinking the size of others. De Young fears reducing the size of the area’s permitted horse population could have a trickle down effect on the equestrian community.

“If we lost those horses we would lose veterinarians, we would lose shoers, we would lose horse chiropractors, we would lose feed stores,” said de Young. “Because the socioeconomic impact would no longer be there because the horses won’t be there.”

Eifert, who met her wife through the horse community, worried the couple would have to move out of the area entirely if affordable horse-boarding facilities in the area were reduced or eliminated.

“I would have to find another place for my horse, my job would change as a schoolteacher,” Eifert said, “we would have to move out of the community we love so much.”

GGNRA Superintendent David Smith, who oversees the area, called the release of the draft plan premature, and said the park service is still collecting community input before deciding on any definitive steps. Smith said the four boarding facilities are permitted for up to 210 horses, with a current population of 176.

“We are committed to the idea we’re going to have as many horses there as are ecologically feasible,” said Smith. “And I honestly don’t think there’s going to be any change in the number of horses that are there.”

While Smith didn’t believe proposed changes would result in substantive reductions in the number of horses, he maintained changes will be needed to address the issue of horse manure from the ranches like Ember Ridge Equestrian Center fouling nearby creeks and waterways.

“You may see places where it makes sense to move the boarding facilities away from the water in those areas,” said Smith.

De Young disputed Smith’s account of the water issue.

“Horses are not sources of pathogenic bacteria,” said de Young. “The bacteria accounts in the creek down below us, San Vicente Creek, are not coming from the horses.”

Smith and representatives from GGNRA have made repeated visits to the area in recent months, meeting with stakeholders and collecting comments from the community. He expected the park service to issue a final draft plan by the end of the year.

“We’ve got some folks, a lot of folks that really care about horses,” said Smith, “and what I want to communicate is ‘we do too – we want them to be part of this plan.’”

The horses loping along the area’s winding dirt trails are a popular sight for the visitors who encounter them. Horse owner Caprice Tennefoss said she and other riders are always happy to interface with visitors and said there have been very few issues between horses and dogs or cyclists.

“We stop them, they pet them,” said Tennefoss, “their children get so excited and it makes their day that they’ve seen a horse on a trail.”

The tight-knit Montara horse community is holding out hope the proposed changes laid out in the recent draft plan will be scaled back by the time the final plan is released. Eifert described the area’s horse lovers as a big family, and said any changes to the community would be devastating.

“For that to go away,” Eifert said, “would affect my soul and my heart.”

Source: NBC Bay Area

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