Acreage-Area Equestrians Holding On, Hoping For Safer ‘Trails’

Nicole Hornstein Equestrian Park.

When Linda Rainbolt moved with her horses from Lantana to The Acreage 33 years ago, it was a different place. Fewer people. Less traffic. Most roads still were dirt. Most people expected to share the sandy lanes with horses and riders on what constituted the Indian Trail Improvement District’s equestrian trail system.

No more. Rainbolt said most area equestrians have been driven off the “trails,” which they must share with everything from motorcycles to cars to delivery trucks, because of safety concerns.

“People don’t think about the fact we’re on a 1,200-pound animal, and we could die any minute [if the horse spooks],” said Rainbolt, who was vice president of the Acreage Horseman’s Association (AHA) until it was disbanded several years ago. “We need to make the trails safer out here.”

ITID Vice President Betty Argue agrees, proposing at the board’s March 29 meeting the creation of an Equestrian Trails Committee. The committee would be charged with taking stock of the current trails situation and making recommendations to the board for ways to increase their safety and use.

“I get tired of hearing people say, ‘I never see horses in this community.’ We are a designated equine community,” Argue said. “But no one is going to ride horses out here again until we can provide safe trails for them.”

Supervisor Elizabeth Accomando supported Argue’s call for a new committee.

Argue has asked Rainbolt to be part of the committee if it is approved by the board. Further discussion of the proposed committee was scheduled for the supervisors’ meeting on Wednesday, April 19.

Among concerns aside from traffic, Argue said, are missing and damaged signage and adequate trail maintenance. The committee would also look at obtaining grants to help defray the cost of an improved trail system, Rainbolt said.

ITID Parks & Recreation Director Kenny Lawrence said he could envision an interconnected trail system with rest/water stops that would tie together the district’s parks. That and other ideas are items that the proposed committee would have input on, he said.

“We don’t need to recreate the wheel,” Argue said. “We have a mobility plan that includes equestrian trails… [but] it never gets off the ground. There’s a perception that it’s not important to the district.”

Despite the equestrian community designation, some district officials wonder if the label still is valid. Supervisor Keith Jordano suggested that only a small percentage of ITID’s 45,000 residents now are horse people. “We still have equestrians, but [the population] certainly is not as equestrian as it used to be,” Jordano said this week. “Maybe we’re not a true equestrian community anymore.”

Rainbolt said that while equestrians are not as visible as they once were due to the lack of safe trails and an umbrella organization, “This is not a dead equestrian community.”

Not that long ago, the AHA was hosting multiple annual events that included everything from barrel racing to hunter-jumpers, she pointed out. A 2015 Halloween event with classes, games and refreshments at the Nicole Hornstein Equestrian Park drew some 80 horses and their riders in costume, according to an article at the time in the Town-Crier.

“This is a terrific way for the community to get together and have fun,” Rainbolt said then, and remembers it fondly now, but said it’s harder these days. Because of safety concerns, “a lot of people trailer their horses out of the area [for rides],” she said, including her — sometimes going as far as Georgia to enjoy multi-day rides with others from The Acreage.

But Rainbolt said she’s not giving up on her home turf. She’s planning a tack sale and free obstacle clinic at Hornstein Park in the near future. She said such events and safe trails are crucial for developing young equestrians, whether they are riding merely for pleasure or have an eye on local, national or even international competition.

“A lot of people moved here who don’t have the money for Wellington or Ocala,” Rainbolt said. “I have a personal investment in my heart with [The Acreage equestrian community]. Kids just grow up different when they love horses.”

Accomando, Argue and Rainbolt said they believe Hornstein Park is being underused and would like to see more planned equestrian activities there. Lawrence agreed and said much of the drop-off could be traced to the pandemic, which forced a year-long closure of the district’s parks.

This isn’t the first time that Argue, who rides but is not a horse owner, has sought to take steps to “preserve our equestrian lifestyle.”

In October 2018, when Argue was president of the board, the supervisors held a workshop on the issue.

The reality is that most of the district’s “trail system” is and always has been simply a delineation on a map, ITID Executive Director Burgess Hanson said. “It’s not like Wellington, where there are fences and trails set back from the roads,” he explained. “The ‘trails’ here are mostly dirt roads and swale.”

Hanson said that ITID still “operates under the flag of an equine/agricultural/residential community” but population increases and demographic shifts over the last few years are increasingly calling that description into question.

Improving the district’s trails “is not as simple as fixing a couple of fence posts and rails,” Hanson said. “I think people are more concerned with roads, sidewalks and athletic fields.”

In a time of limited budgets, it is a complicated issue.

“I’m not saying we should kill the [equestrian ethos] all together,” Jordano said. “But does it keep its niche as our identity? I want to use our taxpayer dollars wisely.”