P.E.I. horse riders' group hopes to use more of Confederation Trail

Horse riders have been advocating for access to the trail for decades. In 2021, the province allowed a pilot project on a few different sections and it's been renewed every year since then.  (CBC - image credit)
Horse riders have been advocating for access to the trail for decades. In 2021, the province allowed a pilot project on a few different sections and it's been renewed every year since then. (CBC - image credit)

Horses are back on designated sections of the Confederation Trail, and riders are hoping they'll eventually have access to even more of the Prince Edward Island-wide system.

Dr. Sylvia Hall Andrews is a veterinarian and an avid trail rider who spends summers in the province, and is also the secretary of P.E.I. Trail Riders.

She said trail riding with horses is an accepted activity in other parts of Canada, so it makes sense to expand the options for it here on the Island.

"We would like to see an expansion of trail access over time.... The government is well aware our goal is to slowly increase the accessibility," said Hall Andrews.

"We feel that horses are safe on the trail, belong on the trail."

She said the group has hundreds of members who would like to be able to travel longer distances via the trail system, which is built where railway tracks once criss-crossed the province.

A pilot program allowing horses on parts of the Confederation Trail began in 2021. Now, a total of 66 kilometres are open to horses as well as the walkers, wheelchair users, runners and bicyclists who have always been allowed to use the system.

There are sections of trail allowing equestrians in all three of P.E.I.'s counties.

This year, horses are being allowed on those designated portions from July 1 to Oct. 31.

Hall Andrews said it's been a long pilot project and it's time to allow horses on the trail permanently.

Sylvia Hall Andrews says it's time for the pilot project to end and that the P.E.I. government should allow horses on the Confederation Trail permanently.
Sylvia Hall Andrews says it's time for the pilot project to end and that the P.E.I. government should allow horses on the Confederation Trail permanently.

Sylvia Hall Andrews says it's time for the pilot project to end and that the P.E.I. government should allow horses on the Confederation Trail permanently. (Submitted by Donna Lee Cole)

She points out there are many parts of the trail through rural parts of the province that aren't very busy that could also be opened up to horses.

At the moment, she said, some people have to drive long distances with their animals in trailers to access the horse-friendly sections.

"It's a very, very small piece of the overall trail pie," said Hall Andrews. "We appreciate there's still some trepidation among some other users, but horses share trails successfully in other parts of Canada."

'We don't think there's capacity'

Cycling P.E.I. doesn't like the idea of horses on the Confederation Trail system, though.

Jordan Bober, the executive director of that group, said some cyclists continue to have concerns about what horses do to the trail.

"We don't think there is the capacity right now," he said.

"We are concerned about the impact on the trail bed, we're concerned about the impact on other users, the potential safety issues if there are too many users of different kinds."

The Confederation Trail has a number of users including walkers and cyclists.
The Confederation Trail has a number of users including walkers and cyclists.

The Confederation Trail has a number of users, including walkers and cyclists. (Shane Ross/CBC)

Bober said the trail bed was built with cyclists and pedestrians in mind, not large animals.

Cycling P.E.I. would like to see more data on how many horses are using the trails and how activities are being monitored — incuding whether riders are staying off the trail when it's wet.

Province waiting on report

Stephen Szwarc is the province's director of highway maintenance, which oversees use of the Confederation Trail.

Stephen Szwarc is the Director of Highway Maintenance said the Confederation Trail attracts people from all over the world so it's important to consider all users.  He feels the pilot project with the trail riders has gone well.
Stephen Szwarc is the Director of Highway Maintenance said the Confederation Trail attracts people from all over the world so it's important to consider all users. He feels the pilot project with the trail riders has gone well.

Stephen Szwarc, P.E.I.'s director of highway maintenance, says the Confederation Trail attracts people from all over the world so it's important to consider all users. (Laura Meader/CBC)

He said there's been positive feedback about horses being allowed on the trail, and that overall "the interactions have been good."

Szwarc said staff are monitoring damage from all users, but he said there has been nothing major reported during the several years of allowing horses.

His department is awaiting a final consultant's report based on public meetings and online surveys. That report is expected sometime in July or August, at which point there will be more consultations with all user groups, including horse riders.

The province says it costs about $1.3 million each season to maintain the Confederation Trail.