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Chancey Bush/The Gazette

Karen Densmore rides her 24-year-old quarter horse, Shelby, at Red Rock Canyon Open Space in west Colorado Springs.

During a recent city of Colorado Springs parks meeting, the mention of horse poop led to a brief, surprised silence.

"I know people think it's just dogs, because that's the majority of animal use," said Scott Abbott, regional parks manager.

But those bulky, grainy piles left by the hoofed steeds must also be collected, he said. They're often left at Red Rock Canyon Open Space and Palmer Park, two fairly popular stomping grounds for equestrians.

Reads a city ordinance: "It is unlawful for any person to allow any animal over which the person has control to defecate upon any park land without the excrement being removed by the person in control of the animal from the park and disposed of properly."

That goes for "any animal," Abbott emphasized.

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El Paso County has a similar ordinance against "any animal" waste left unattended, with added language for enthusiasts at preserves such as Bear Creek, Black Forest and Fox Run regional parks: "Equestrians shall scatter horse manure off parking and/or trail areas."

Who knew? Not Susan Davies, the leading advocate with Trails and Open Space Coalition.

"Really?" she remarked. "I mean ... come on."

Her organization is more familiar with angst over dog waste. It's "a huge problem," according to a city webpage dedicated to poop scooping, which states abandoned droppings are unlawful and also "a nuisance" that "can carry viruses and bacteria that are harmful to humans and animals. In addition to the risk of diseases, the organic matter and nutrients in pet waste make the water in our creeks and streams dirty."

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The same can't be said for horse manure, argued Judi Tobias, a lifelong equestrian and longtime regional steward formerly on the county parks board.

Horse manure is a valued fertilizer, she noted, "actually good for the soil." She added: "Horses are herbivores. Dogs, generally, the food they eat is different and decomposes differently."

Riders are aware of the rules, Tobias said. They scoop beside their trailers at parking lots, she said.

But on the trail?

"Are you going to carry a shovel with you on a horseback ride? I doubt it," Tobias said.

Getting off the horse and back on was another "difficult" proposition, she said. "It's not very realistic I don't think."

It's in line with the city's ramped-up messaging of Leave No Trace, said John Stark, Garden of the Gods Park manager.

"Pack it in, pack it out," he said. "The visitor experience is important to everybody, so removing animal waste, whether it's a horse or a dog, improves the experience for everybody on the trail."

Under the commercial agreement with the city, Academy Riding Stables is required to scoop poop after every 40 rides, which equates to the job being done "several times a day," Stark said.

He didn't consider there to be an issue within the Garden or across city parks.

"I have not heard of it as an issue," Davies said. "Of course, with increasing (trail) usage, we're gonna have more user conflicts, and these kinds of things will get a little louder."

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