Bringing Back the Horses

Somewhere a little girl has dreams of riding a pony or perhaps owning one some day. In years past, there were more farms and opportunities close by to make these dreams come true. It is incumbent on our community and its older generation to maintain these opportunities and healthy traditions for our younger generation when possible.

Before we tell parents they can find a pony riding program an hour drive away in another community or suggest their daughter do something else; we need to seriously consider the request by Total Equine Learning Center (TELC) to bring its horses and REC programs to the Upper Allen Farm at 1215 McCormick Rd. This document seeks to outline some specific considerations and suggestions for the Upper Allen Township Commissioners to include as part of a review process.

From the 2016 Parks, Recreation & Open Space Plan (page 97): “The Upper Allen Township municipal government’s purpose is to provide, on a broad scale, those services that help to meet the significant needs of citizens but can’t be performed as efficiently or economically by individual citizens acting for themselves. This includes providing public parks and offering public recreation programs. The goal is to ensure that the members of every segment of the population – regardless of age, physical or mental condition, or economic or social standing – have opportunities to enjoy broad, satisfying recreation experiences.”

The best person to speak on behalf of the REC programs and their value to the participants and community would be the REC Director(s). Ms. Tonya Brown, Director of Mechanicsburg Area Parks and Recreation, unfortunately, was not available (on short notice) at the time of the Commissioners meeting on April 21, 2021. The Township is encouraged to follow up with Ms. Brown for further guidance and perhaps seek input from West Shore REC, and Hampden and Silver Spring Townships which also use TELC as a provider.

The existing equine infrastructure at the farm should be reviewed and evaluated by individuals with such expertise. Ms. Hocker should be granted access to tour the property with the appropriate Township staff, advisors, and REC Department personnel. Two former farm managers associated with Indigo Stables; Ms. Casey Jones and/or Mrs. Sarah Dellinger may be available to attend as well and could answer questions on how the farm was formerly operated.

Managing horses in a public setting should start with how the farm/park is planned. Parking should be away from the Barn and fencing and gates should be utilized to separate Equine from other park activities. The primary movement pattern would be horses going from the Barn or pastures to the training rings. Events such as the Pennsylvania Farm Show involve thousands of visitors in close proximity to animals each year without serious incident.

Signage, information boards, and park rules can all be used to further clarify the separation and movement. As with all signs and rules, some people may not follow them. Security cameras or other technology could be installed near the Barn. Having a farm manager, caretaker or Park Ranger living onsite in the Annex apartment would be beneficial for overall security and care of the animals.

Development of a perimeter trail should likely be considered separately and in relation to the amount of outer fencing retained, plantings, topography and other desired park features.

Continued oversight by the REC Board would continue a relationship and procedures that have been in place for many years. Programs are described and advertised in brochures or online, and participants sign up and pay fees in advance for programs they wish to attend. Liability waivers are required to be signed by participants prior to the start of the program. Staff and participants wear name tags to identify themselves. Parents and other visitors often enjoy watching the sessions and an area to observe should be provided.

A Lease or other Agreement format is recommended to define the usage areas and document the overall conditions and requirements of the Township. TELC operates under a “free lease” currently and is responsible for routine maintenance of its current barn, fencing, etc. Adding significant monetary consideration would likely mean that program fees would have to increase and is not recommended.

A key aspect of the TELC programs is the use of rescue and surrender horses which are then highly trained. Most of the horses are ponies which are defined as horses that measure less than 14.2 “hands”. It is suggested that the staff and/or some Commissioners attend an upcoming TELC program and make their own assessment of how well the horses behave and the programs operate.

TELC carries a $2 million liability policy. Additional liability protection may be available under the Pennsylvania Equine Liability Law or Act 93 of 2005. Per The Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center at Penn State /Dickinson:

“Under the Equine Activity Immunity Act, certain individuals and entities cannot be held liable in a negligence suit for damages (injury or death) resulting from a defined equine activity. In order to gain the immunity granted by the Act, specific requirements – addressed below – must be satisfied. The Act offers protection only from claims of negligence, which is a legal concept defined as the failure to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm. The Act does not address liability for damages caused by intentional actions.”

Feed and hay for the horses has traditionally been stored in the Barn. Manure has traditionally been stored in a designated area and periodically collected by Messiah College. Some equipment and a platform is needed in the ring to help small children onto the horses. Well water is available in the Barn and pastures. A portable toilet has been available in the past.

Case studies are helpful in showing what is possible. Spring Valley Park in Glen Rock, an 868 acre York County Park, appears to be the closest public park that features equine activities. While Spring Valley is much larger and horses are brought in for riding and events vs. being kept onsite for specific programs; what is allowable is much broader than what is requested by TELC. From the Spring Valley website:

Multi-Use Trails: There are over 12 miles of trails throughout the park. Horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking are permitted on all trails. Trails are closed to mountain biking and horseback riders during “wet conditions,” as determined by park rangers. For current conditions, check out the parks Twitter/Facebook pages or call the Parks office at (717) 840-7440 and press 1.  Trail open/closed signs are located in several parking areas within the parks.

Animal Activity Area: Two horse show rings can be rented for a nominal fee or each one can be rented separately. The rings are locked except on the day of rental. Numerous equestrian shows are held during the spring and summer. A schedule of events and a price listing sheet can be obtained from the Parks Office. The trails and roadways within the park offer over 12 miles of riding area and is suitable for everything from English and Western pleasure to barrel racing, pole bending and jumping.”