Last month, I heard an advertisement on my car radio promoting Fannie Mae, the home-mortgage company. It stated, gleefully, that the U.S. population is projected to grow by more than 30 million people over the next 10 years.
This rather shocked me, so I went to Google Search and looked under population projections, and, sure enough, there it was. The 2003 U.S. population is about 281 million, and the projected 2013 population is 305 million.
Then I looked at 2028, 25 years down the road, and it said that this country would be home to 342 million people, or 61 million more than our current population\’basically the size of two Californias. By 2043, 40 years from now, when a 10-year-old Pony Clubber is reaching 50, there will be, according to my chart, 376 million people in America, a gain of 85 million.
And those are only the conservative estimates. The high-end estimate speculates that there could be 475 million people by 2043, a gain of a whopping 184 million.
Then I looked at the state-by-state projections, which list the estimated gains between 2000 and 2025. California will
gain 18 million people, up to 49 million from 31 million. Florida will grow by about 6 million in the next 23 years, Texas by 9 million, Virginia by nearly 2 million, and North Carolina and Arizona by more than 2 million each. By contrast, little Vermont will only gain 95,000 new residents, Wisconsin slightly more than half a million, and Delaware about 145,000.
So growth\’sometimes vast, explosive growth\’is heading our way, but it\’s far from evenly distributed over the length and breadth of the nation. If you want to check out your state, go to Google and type in “population projections” to get an overload of data.
What this means for horseback riders will depend in large measure upon when we live and whether being forewarned can be translated into being forearmed.
Realistically (and pessimistically), these statistics mean riding is never going to be as good as it is right at this very moment. For just as we riders can read these tables, so too can developers. Developers almost never think in terms of land preservation, trail easements, or any of the things that enable us to ride out across an open landscape. Instead, they see farmland as economic opportunity, woodland trails as impediments to shopping malls, and wildlife (especially alligators or coyotes) as a pain in the neck.
Developers, even nice ones you\’d bring home to meet your family, have basic interests that are antithetical to the needs of foxhunters, event riders, and trail and pleasure riders. They can, and sometimes do, see money to be made by squeezing a barn, and a dressage or show jumping arena, into their “Reynard\’s Ridge” development, but it\’s an attenuated version of the way that same part of the world looked back in the \’40s, \’50\’s or even the \’60s.
We equestrians can\’t always count on riding on municipal properties either, because we\’re often in conflict with hikers, mountain bikers, and even four-wheelers. The former accuse us of destroying the trails, while the latter simply don\’t want to slow down for our terrified horses.
What\’s to be done? Last year at the U.S. Eventing Association convention, I proposed a couple of options. One was that we eventers collectively buy North Dakota and move there with all of our horses. This wasn\’t a popular suggestion, though, I suppose because North Dakota, like my home state of Vermont, is famous for having “nine months of winter and three months of damn poor sledding.”
So then I suggested that we convince our government to conquer Ireland (instead of some hot place in the Middle East), move the Irish to North Dakota, and use their lovely island country as our private horse preserve. This was enthusiastically received, but the details of its inception are proving tricky. (The Irish aren\’t giving up as easily as we\’d hoped.)
So, instead of either of those bold strokes, it seems we need to work locally to try to achieve small victories in more modest ways. Things like local trail networks, riding easements, the actual collective purchase of real estate like the North Carolina Horse Park at Five Points\’whatever we can think of. There really is a wide range of options, but few, if any, of them are easy.
And probably none of them are going to be entirely satisfactory. But, seriously, what are the alternatives?
To ride around in little rings in the mid-dle of developments, while the neighbors assail us about dust and unpleasant odors? Is that the riding future for our children and grandchildren?
It may prove to be that we current riders really are the lucky ones. I remember when a group of us went to see the Kevin Costner movie “Dances With Wolves,” set shortly after the Civil War on the Great Plains of the Midwest.
After the movie, the gist of our conversation went something like this: “It was sure a great, wide-open country to ride in back then, but if you got hurt, you had to bite on a stick while they sawed off your arm. In another hundred years or so, medicine will be even more advanced, but most of the country will be a giant suburb. We\’ve had penicillin, novocaine and anesthesia, and we\’ve still had plenty of open land to ride on. I guess this has actually been the best time of all to be an American horseback rider.”
Those may prove to be prophetic words, unfortunately.
Taking over Ireland is looking better and better.