Generosity Of Landowners Crucial For NBLA Horseback Riders In Town
As those few remaining straggler leaves fall off the trees and the forecast of snow theoretically fast approaches, horseback riders continue their love of equestrian life here in town. They ride throughout the year and also through changes to the landscape as the years go by and houses (and other developments) go up. Something that has been imperative for the riders to enjoy their town, especially as open space dwindles away, is cooperation of private land owners, many of whom go above and beyond to make the experience as pleasurable as possible.
Tracy Van Buskirk, a board member with the Newtown Bridle Lands Association (NBLA) — a nonprofit volunteer organization formed in 1978 to foster an interest in horseback riding as well as preserving, protecting, and maintaining riding and hiking trails in the community — notes that things have changed a lot throughout the past few decades as a result of development and concerns over liability.
“I’ve been trail riding in Newtown since the early ‘80s, and the reduction of open space is pretty dramatic. For example, I have spent many years riding in the Huntington Road area of Newtown, and there used to be large fields where Arlyn Ridge Road is now. It was just wonderful to canter through those fields with my hound dog trailing behind me and never see anyone except the occasional deer. When I occasionally would cut through someone’s back woods, if the owner was outside, they would usually smile and wave. Today, with so much attention on liability and the move away from our farming and rural profile and towards gentrification, it is so important that the NBLA fosters relationships with property owners to allow access. We are ambassadors of good will between the horse community and everyone else,” Ms Van Buskirk said.
NBLA Trail Maintenance Coordinator Stephanie Lennon and her husband, Terry, own 32 acres of land, the perimeter of which is utilized by riders at the annual NBLA Frost on the Pumpkin Hunter Pace, as well as other times of the year.
“I open my land for people to use year-round,” Ms Lennon said. “It’s nice to see horses coming through.”
Ms Lennon said her Mount Nebo road property connects to the Newtown Forest Association (NFA) land, which is also available to riders. It is crucial for other property owners to share their land, Ms Lennon said.
NBLA has horse easements throughout Newtown donated from past landowners and from the town that the NBLA uses for the pace. “We would like present and future landowners to be encouraged to do so to keep trails on going in perpetuity,” Ms Lennon said.
“It is a big challenge to get over eight miles of continuous trails for the pace without the permission from landowners to cross their lands. These landowners are constantly changing hands, and many times, it falls into the hands of a builder who will either subdivide the property into smaller parcels or design the land to obstruct our trail system,” Ms Lennon said
A handful of years ago, Clare and Peter Harrison purchased a 33-acre piece of property where the NBLA pace starts, and where participants park their trailers for the pace.
“It’s a beautiful property. It’s great to be able to share it with other people. They go all through the woods and out and back,” Ms Harrison said. “When we bought the property, there wasn’t any question we would allow them to continue to use it.”
Ms Harrison noted that the NBLA members provide a great service for the community.
“They are great people; they are absolutely amazing — they work so hard clearing trails. We try our hardest to do the best we can,” said Ms Harrison, adding that they mow fields and prepare the land as best as possible every year for the pace.
“They are very concerned about safety,” said Ms Harrison, adding that NBLA volunteers not only clear brush but fill holes to prevent horses from tripping.
Ms Lennon points out that there is a hold harmless liability legislation for riders crossing private lands and refers to statutes that may be found at animallaw.info/statute/ct-equine-activity-liability-statute-chapter-925-statutory-rights-action-and-defenses.
“It all comes back to the landowners allowing riders to come through their properties. This list is ever-changing and growing in numbers. When the NBLA first started in the ‘80s, there were perhaps only a handful of landowners who participated, but because these huge parcels of land have subdivided, we currently have 28 landowners. This means the NBLA must have a positive and continuous relationship with them by maintaining the lands they use for NBLA horses, although some landowners prefer to do the work themselves,” Ms Lennon said.
“On a positive note, Robert and Sian Nimkoff recently bought lands sold off from the Cherry Grove preserve in order to maintain a state of nature around their house. They not only plan to maintain the beauty of these fields and pond in perpetuity, but actually improve on their natural state in order promote wildlife and correct plant growth. They hired a consultant to rid the property of invasives and to encourage original plant/tree growth to return. Additionally, they allow the NBLA to make use of these fields by mowing paths around the perimeters of the fields. Without their generosity, the pace trail would be on road,” Ms Lennon said.
“These trails cover a variety of lands — wooded forests, open fields, stream crossings, and views of Hattertown Pond. The finish field where the horses give a final gallop down an open field gives a scenic view overlooking the hills of Newtown. It’s breathtaking. During the hunter pace, riders come through landowner property, which also has its own flavor of fun. Some landowners will sit on lawn chairs with friends to view the costumed riders and horses, offering water, candy, and cookies. Another landowner has set up a haunted forest where riders must pass goblins hanging from trees, bloody axes, and a headless horseman.”
Rick Bouza and his wife, Patricia Norberg, own a 12-acre piece of land, part of which serves as the finishing area for riders in the hunter pace.
“Not only do we welcome them, it adds to the entire experience of being a property owner and allows for the folks in the neighborhood to enjoy it and not have it built up,” Mr Bouza said.
Andrea Brosnan, vice president of the NBLA, said she is grateful for landowners allowing riders to use their properties. “Some of them come to us and ask if they can help,” Ms Brosnan said.
The Hull family lives next door to the Harrison property, where the NBLA pace starts, on Mt Nebo Road, and they provide electricity and direct riders. “Anything we can do to help,” Jay Hull said.
“It’s nice to see everybody get together and go for a nice ride. I just think it’s neat. It’s been going on for so long. A lot of people love it,” said Jay Hull’s wife, Heather Hull, who is a licensed veterinarian technician.
“Currently, there are no public/town lands that are used for the hunter pace. The permanent trails used year-round are roughly divided between the NFA properties, newly acquired Cherry Grove preserve and the Hattertown Preserve, and landowner property. The good news is that the newly-acquired Cherry Grove property abuts town property, which now gives us a continuous trail system that can take us all the way to The Creamery. Looking forward to organizing a trail ride for ice cream cones next summer,” said Ms Lennon, referring to Ferris Acres Creamery at 144 Sugar Street.
Additional property owners who allow riders on their land are Audrey Petschek, Jon Christenson, Victor Ellil, Dan and Elizabeth Hussein, Robert Hubert, Aaron and Bonnie Nezvesky, Bruce Hoag, Raymond Scalzo, Doug and Caitlin Hogan, John Kortze, Tim Blakeman, Karen Adamshack, David and Jan Grisko, Doug and Joanne McGregor, Ann Eldrup, Richard and Erin Nordt, Hunter and Alisa Stollman, Jerome Meyer, Thomas Kokoska, Jeffrey Bernstein, Robert and Sian Nimkoff, Robert and Ruby Beer, and Richard and Laurie Colonel.