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Horse rescue moves to escape encroaching development

When Front Range Equine Rescue moved into the Horseshoe Rancheros subdivision near the intersection of Black Forest and Woodman roads in 1999, founder Hilary Wood thought she had found the perfect site for her nonprofit rescue. With five acres of land surrounded by similar parcels, she built several three-sided loafing sheds for her horse and her rescued horses and eventually put in an arena for educational clinics.It’s an old story now, and Wood probably should have seen the signs: “Coming soon to a horse pasture near you: a new housing development!” One day in 2004, she got a call from a neighbor who had just heard about a public hearing that was being held the next day. A new housing development was planned to the south of their subdivision, and since the neighbor’s house was within 1,000 feet of the project, the law required that she be notified.”It was a rude awakening for me and most of my neighbors,” said Wood. “Now looking back on it, that was just the tip of the iceberg.”The development, an extension of Stetson Hills, was approved, and several hundred new rooftops soon crowded the south end of Horseshoe Lane. But that was just the beginning.When Wood moved into the neighborhood of five-acre parcels, the area was surrounded by large open areas of 30 acres or more. “I just assumed they were open fields,” she said. “It never occurred to me that they were annexed to the city of Colorado Springs.” But, although the Horseshoe Rancheros subdivision was in unincorporated El Paso County, the city’s comprehensive plan had earmarked the surrounding area for city expansion.Soon after learning of the new houses to the south, Wood also learned that a large plot of open land adjoining her property to the east had been sold to John Laing homes. The developers showed up to the public meeting with plans for 300 houses. “They basically said, ‘This is what we’re doing … there’s really no negotiating.”Then she learned of plans to build a new D 49 high school on 60 acres west of her property. A proposed east-west road will connect the new development east of Wood’s property to the high school, “right through the living room of my neighbor two doors up from me,” said Wood.”I didn’t move out here and say, ‘Boy, I can’t wait for there to be a Wal-Mart and a Home Depot a mile down the road,'” said Wood. “That is irrelevant to me. I came out for the horses, the peace and quiet and the safety.”By the fall of 2005, Wood had seen the writing on the wall and with her attorney and accountant she drew up a long-range plan, including a move to a less developed area. She found a 40-acre horse property in Larkspur, just over the Douglas County line. She plans to move the nonprofit to the new location in mid-summer.The 2002 Natural Resources Inventory (a project of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) found that 33 million acres of pasture and rangeland was lost to development between 1982 and 2002. The Equestrian Land Conservation Resource (ELCR) estimates that three million acres of open land in the U.S. are developed each year, the equivalent of 340 acres every hour. The ELCR was formed in 1997 by members of a U. S. Pony Club task force who recognized that the loss of open land represented an urgent threat to the future of equestrian activities.The disappearance of farmland is a concern not only to those who keep horses on their property or trail ride but also to those who board their horses. In an article by Christine Barakat in the January 2006 issue of Equus, Kandee Haertel, executive director of the ELCR, summed it up: “When farm land is developed, property taxes in that area typically skyrocket, which means your board bill will probably increase. Hay becomes more expensive as there are fewer places to grow it, and show grounds are lost because the amount of land they typically occupy is very attractive to developers. Ultimately, the issue affects everyone who enjoys riding, no matter where they do it.”

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