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Clash between equestrians, Santa Fe homeowners association makes for unhappy trails

September 2, 2018

A Santa Fe woman and a local homeowners association are engaged in a prolonged and bitter battle over whether horse riders can be excluded from using the association’s network of trails.

Carolyn Hansen said she started riding horseback on the outskirts of Aldea de Santa Fe 25 years ago — long before the housing development came into existence in 2002. She said she and riders who board horses at her nearby ranch are awaiting a final decision on whether Aldea will exclude them from trails Hansen claims wouldn’t exist without horseback-riding enthusiasts from outside the neighborhood.

“We made these trails,” Hansen said of the miles of sandy pathways that meander as far as Caja del Rio.

However, members of Aldea’s Permaculture Committee, charged with protecting the landscape and habitat of the subdivision, said horses have damaged the area.

“This country is not horse country,” said Don Wilson, an Aldea resident and chairman of the committee. “The habitat is very fragile, some parts much more fragile than others.”

Wilson said Aldea board members have been discussing horse use for nearly a decade and began a project last year to “restore and repair all the damage done by horses for however long she’s [Hansen] been illegally riding across our land.”

Hansen says she inherited 10 acres of nearby land from her grandfather in 1990 and at the time was given a “word of mouth” prescriptive easement from a county official, allowing her to ride in the area regardless of future development.

Back then, “open space was for everyone,” she said, clinging to a copy of a covenant — a document she says was created between a previous developer and the county — stating the land was “for equestrian, pedestrian and bicycle use.”

Since that time, Hansen’s home has been encircled by four upscale housing developments — with nearly 500 residential homes in Aldea de Santa Fe alone.

When Aldea purchased property, the board intended it to be private open space for residents only, excluding areas with “express easements,” said Lynn Krupnik, a lawyer representing Aldea de Santa Fe’s homeowners association. Additionally, an equestrian easement was created, which specifically prohibited horseback riders — including Aldea residents — to ride trails that adjoin private property.

Over time, Krupnik said, Hansen has created new trails that shouldn’t be in the area.

Hansen said she wasn’t aware there was an issue until last fall, when she began to notice piles of dead branches and barbed wire sprawled along the trails.

In October, Hansen said Wilson threatened to “hang barbed wire on the trails” if he saw her riding there again.

Wilson denies ever using barbed wire to create blockades.

“I have not used any barbed wire anywhere in Aldea. That is a bare-faced lie,” he said, adding that wire has “been in the area for decades.”

Rider Alan Kessler, one of Hansen’s boarders, who says he’s ridden trails in the area for 18 years, said “new wire was added” and “put in hidden, shadowed areas.”

Another rider, Howard Gershon, said he’s also noticed an increase of wire, which is “very dangerous — for more than just horses and riders.”

Wilson said he was granted permission last year by the board to create obstacles to keep horses inside the 25-foot-wide Frijoles Arroyo — a designated area for horses as stated in the equestrian easement — and that the board started putting up fences at least six years ago. He said he’s only used dead tree branches in his construction.

He is committed to preserving the natural habitat of the area, Wilson said. Some of his efforts to preserve the open space include monitoring and recording birds, implementing sustainable gardening and working to stabilize butterfly populations.

The idea, he said, is “just making sure the place is a more healthy, verdant place to walk around in and enjoy.”

Wilson’s greatest concern, he said, is that horses disturb wildlife and damage the ecosystem. “All you have to do is look at a footprint after rain to know the damage one horse can do.”

Hansen disputes allegations of damage to the land or wildlife, and said she met in April with members of Aldea’s board to discuss trail usage and thought an agreement had been reached. But a few days later, when five riders left from her house to ride Aldea trails, “suddenly there’s more and more bush.”

“She’s not adhering to what the mediation resolved in April,” said Aldea property manager Tony Brown, adding a settlement is in progress, “so I can’t talk about it.”

A July meeting produced an agreement that allowed Hansen to ride segments of a single trail loop. Hansen said this remains unsatisfactory to her. “I’ll give up everything. I just want that loop that I’ve been riding for years,” she said.

Though Hansen said she’s “fine with a compromise,” she added she believes Aldea is unwilling to work with her.

Brown acknowledged the parties could be at an impasse.

“We’re not gonna end up with a settlement if she goes on like this,” he said. “All we’ve done is try negotiating with her in good faith.”

Hansen expressed similar frustrations.

“I’m honestly at the end of my rope,” she said. “I’m hoping that I can get the support of the residents in Aldea to stand up and say they don’t have a problem with us riding.”

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