Whether  you ride with a hunt, love to trail ride, or want to keep horses on your property, having a good relationship with surrounding landowners is critical. With the encroaching developments eating up a lot of open spaces, those that remain are vital resources. Here’s a brief list of things you can do to help keep the relationship with your local landowners a happy one – for everyone involved.

1. Show Some Respect

If the respect issue seems to be a recurring theme in this series of articles, it’s with good reason. A little respect goes a long way toward creating strong bonds in most situations.

Some of the ways you can show respect:

• Always ask permission before riding on someone else’s land.

• Always leave things as you found them. Gate open when you got there? Leave it open. If it was closed, make sure you close it behind you.

• If you’re riding across a crop field, keep to the edges. Nothing will irritate a farmer faster than having a bunch of people galloping across the middle of his freshly planted field of corn.

• Send a thank you. Although they seem to be going out of style a bit, a handwritten thank you note will be noticed by the landowner. If you’re respectful of the owners and their property, and you show your gratitude, you’re more likely to be invited back.

2. Be Proactive

If you’d love to ride on trails on your neighbor’s property, or you’re planning on getting a horse and keeping it on your property, it helps to establish a good relationship with your neighbor first.

Meherrin Trail Ride with Linda Strawhand Reinhold & Oreo, Diane Strawhand & Cisco aka Bubba

Meherrin Trail Ride with Linda Strawhand Reinhold & Oreo, Diane Strawhand & Cisco aka Bubba

If you’d like to ride on some trails on privately owned land, ask around, find out who owns the land and who currently rides there. Spend some time getting to know the people involved, and be willing to help out if there’s a group of trail riders having a trail cleaning day. Nothing warms the heart of a hardworking volunteer organization than a fresh pair of hands ready to chip in to get the work done.

If you’re planning on moving one or more horses onto your property, talk to your neighbors first. Let them know that you’re getting a horse, answer questions they may have about safety, smell, flies, etc. The best way to be able to do that? Have a plan in place before you ever have the talk. Think through any objections your neighbors might have.

“But horse manure stinks and draws flies!”

“We’re using an advanced composting system which not only minimizes odor and flies, but it turns the manure into valuable compost for your vegetable garden. We’ll be happy to share some with you”

Or, if your area zoning requires that manure be removed from the property, “We’ve contracted with a manure removal company, and the manure will be contained in a dumpster and removed from the property regularly. This will minimize both odor and flies”.

You can also use this discussion time to gently point out your neighbor’s responsibilities – like not trespassing into your horse’s pasture.

“Oh, our daughter loves horses, she’ll spend all her time over in his field petting him”

“Even though our horse is well trained and gentle, horses can be unpredictable and are very large. Because of the possible risk of injury and the terms of our insurance, we won’t be able to allow people to handle the horse unless we’re around. We’d love to have her come over on Saturday mornings and we can spend some time with her and let her pet him.”

As a side note – it’s imperative you check with your homeowner’s insurance company before you bring your horse home to your property. You may also wish to speak with an equine insurance specialist. Many homeowner’s policies don’t cover horse related issues, and you could find yourself with an unexpected insurance gap that could cost you thousands of dollars or more.

Being proactive can save you plenty of time and avoid misunderstandings, angry neighbors, or worse.

3. Know the laws

Petersburg National Battlefield Park Robin Gassler on Shimmer

Petersburg National Battlefield Park Robin Gassler on Shimmer

If you’re planning on getting a horse and keeping it at your home, one of the things that requires pro activity is checking your local zoning laws, as well as those of any homeowner’s association to which you may belong. The placing of fencing and barns in relation to property lines is often clearly dictated.  You don’t want to find the thousands of dollars and months of work you just spent completing your dream barn are in violation of local zoning laws.

4. Get Active

By “get active”, I’m not suggesting upping your cardio workout (although if you need to do that, by all means do so). The activity I’m talking about is political. Groups such as The Virginia Horse Council (http://www.virginiahorsecouncil.org), The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/land-conservation/whereto4), The American Horse Council (http://www.horsecouncil.org), The Nature Conservancy (http://www.nature.org), and the Conservation Fund (http://www.conservationfund.org) work to keep open lands available for recreational use and to limit development in environmentally sensitive areas.

Urban and suburban sprawl, especially in Northern Virginia, have taken their toll on available places to ride. Take the time to find a group working toward conservation, and then get active. Donation of time and/or money can help those trails you love be there to ride next year and for the next generation.

5. Lend a hand

Most organized hunts and trail riding groups have agreements with the landowners whose property they use to help with maintenance. This can range from clearing brush and trails to keeping jumps in good repair. If you don’t belong to an organized group but you’re riding on your neighbor’s land, you can still help out. When you see something that needs doing on the property while you’re riding, offer to lend a hand.

Often large parcels of land are owned by people who are getting on in years, and don’t have younger family members to help maintain the place. If you can fix some fencing, clear some brush, or even mow the lawn for the privilege of riding on the property, you can create a situation that benefits everyone.

We hope our list has given you some ideas. Developing a relationship with your neighbors and local property owners can be an extremely beneficial situation for everyone involved. And, should you choose to help an organization that’s working to maintain open spaces, your work not only benefits you (and your horse) today, but the rewards will be visible for generations to come. So as you start planning your new horse barn or your trail riding season, give a thought to the items on this list – you may find it paves the way to a smooth season of riding and some great new friendships.