SEDRO-WOOLLEY — A group of about a dozen riders welcomed back their right to ride in the streets by saddling up and heading into town Friday night for dinner.
The City Council in March unanimously repealed a 27-year-old ban on riding or driving horses, cattle and mules in the city center.
“Nobody can remember” why the ban was in place, said Sedro-Woolley Police Chief Doug Wood, who led the group of Skagit Backcountry Horsemen down a trail from the rodeo grounds and then briefly through downtown.
Occasionally, police officers would see people riding through town and have to tell them it wasn’t allowed, but it wasn’t really punished, Wood said.
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Once, Wood saw two people ride to the courthouse and tie their horses to the bicycle racks because their driver’s licenses had been suspended. He said he told them it was a good idea but he couldn’t let them do it.
Under the ban, horseback transportation remained legal in less-urban parts of the city. Now, horse riders just have to follow all traffic laws and rights of way.
Rich Ruhl, a member of the Skagit Backcountry Horsemen, had been riding his horse into town for years before Wood told him it was illegal. So he went to the City Council in early March and asked for a change.
The ordinance was off the books by the end of the month.
Ruhl wasn’t the only one who didn’t know he was breaking a law. A group of women riding Friday night — four generations, three of them former rodeo queens — also had no idea.
“We ride down here every year!” said 2003 rodeo queen Drew Stewart.
Her grandmother Donna Geerdes, was rodeo queen 50 years before that. Geerdes said she rode through town all the time as a young woman.
Once, she said, she came outside to check on her tied-up horse and found a drunk man slumped over, sitting on its back.
“Somebody helped him off — he fell,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t know how he even got on it!”
More universal than inebriated horse-jackers, however, is the problem of droppings. That issue came up as the City Council discussed repeal in March, with Mayor Mike Anderson wondering how business owners would be able to deal with horse excrement outside their establishments.
It would be impractical and unsafe for riders to dismount and clean up droppings right when they happen, Wood told the council at the time.
For their part, the Backcountry Horsemen designated a few people to be on what one called “super duper pooper scooper” duty Friday night so the group could honor a “leave-no-trace” rule.
Dave Temple, another member of the Skagit Backcountry Horsemen who rode into town Friday, echoed a comment City Councilman Brett Sandström made when the council debated the law in March: that to allow people to ride horses through town was to give them back a “little piece of liberty.”
“So many things are being taken away from people,” Temple said, noting that horseback riding is not allowed in national parks, and public-recreation areas are less prevalent than they used to be. “… Would I normally ride a horse through town? No. It’s not my kind of riding. But I support people (getting to) recreate the way they want to recreate.”
The City Council plans to revisit the issue in a year and determine whether any adjustments need to be made or if it should reinstate the ban.