I slid this little tidbit into the end of my Saturday ride story. It was more of an afterthought, but I think it deserves more attention.
The area where we moved the horses to is very horse friendly and is dotted with private farms, training facilities and is home to the majority of the hunter paces. Its the reason we decided to move them 40 minutes away. The one downside to the region is the complete lack of public trails for either hiking or riding. We had erroneously thought that being in the mountains meant loads of public trails, but we were only able to find one trail that wound through the area and that was for hikers/bikers only.
What does exist is a privately owned and monitored network of trails compiled into various trail associations. FETA, GETA, GENTS, and CETA are the ones I am aware of in the area. These were all established a long time ago as big family farms started to be sold in smaller parcels and land owners began to worry about the accessibility to riding trails. Associations formed to ensure that the land would remain available for recreational use. Each association has its own rules and regulations, but they all have one thing in common: the trails are made up entirely of private property. I know that GENTS only allows access to those who actually live on and allow their property to be used by the trail system. It is a way to ensure that the land will remain available: if you want to ride on others you must make yours accessible as well. It also ensures that the trails are well cared for and respected.
I know next to nothing about the CETA and GETA systems except that I have had the ability to ride on some of them for the paces.
FETA is the largest system in the area and the website states that it encompasses about 125-150 miles of trails although they have not officially ever surveyed it. They are slowly acquiring land rights for the trails to ensure that they stick around for generations to come even if the current land owners sell out. Kind of like the way the government owns a swash of your property to gain access to utilities. FETA does allow people who do not live or own property on the trail system to still ride on it as long they live in the county and two surrounding towns. I thought that I wouldn't gain access because I don't live there, but then I found out that boarding there counts. If I move Gem out of the area, I lose my access.
There are numerous access points to the trails with one only a 10 minute trailer ride from the barn. The others are closer to 20-25 minutes.
Since you are riding on individual private property (in pastures, along grassy lanes bordering fence lines, along hay fields and in woods) they have established rules to ensure that the land doesn't get trashed and that land owners see the benefit in allowing others to use it. The website lists them all but in brief: no dogs allowed, must wear a helmet, no smoking, no litter, no bushwhacking, don't use private arenas or jump courses, always call before you load to find out about trail closures.
Two things in general stand out:
1) Trail closures. This is the biggest topic that I have had come up with those I've talked to who don't have access to the system. I specify that because it is always told to me in a huffy voice filled with envy and I always cock my head and wonder why they have to rain on other people's parades. Anyway...private owners can shut down sections of or entire portions of the trail at any time, for any reason. It is their own land after all. In general, the main reason for closure appears to be rain. If the trails are soaking wet they will close to prevent destruction. I am not sure if this means that at the smallest thought of rain they close or if it takes soaking wet and soggy ground to close. Time will tell but I can fully understand not wanting a bunch of people riding and tearing up your hay field or horse pasture. There is a hotline to call before you head out that will give information on trail closures due to weather, maintenance, or someone rerouting an old trail.
2.) No bushwhacking. This one seems pretty self explanatory: stay on the marked trail. However, it specifically states in the rules that if there is a tree down that can not be safely gone over, you are to turn around and go back the way you came. You are not allowed to go around the tree unless there is notice posted otherwise. I get this one too in that they don't want people going around everything and creating new trails all over the place. Seems a bit of an annoyance to have to turn around every time you get to a tree though.
The fee is $150 a year beginning in April. This gives you a parking permit as well as a pass you must wear on yourself/horse while on the trails. At any time a landowner can ask to see your permit. It is also a way to track troublemakers and rule breakers who, if caught, can be banned from the system. They do not provide a trail map online as they want to protect the privacy of the owners, so it is a little bit of an adventure until you learn the system and which trails you prefer and which ones you don't. You can gain access for a friend for a day pass although I am uncertain of the fee.
I can't wait to get my permit in April. It times really well with the end of pace season when my access to local trails up by the barn ends. I've never been a part of a major private trial system such as this, so it will be interesting to see how often they close and how many times it actually interferes with days I planned to ride. I will be tracking days wanting to go ride the trails and how many times I have to re route elsewhere due to closures. If it turns out that they are closed more days than open, I won't renew.