Horse enthusiasts on the North Fork are launching efforts, including phone calls to legislators and a petition, to permit riding on Cedar Beach in Southold after the county shut down a weekly gathering of swimming horses last Thursday.
Since 2013, dozens of local equestrians had been riding their horses into the waters at Cedar Beach to cool off once or twice a week during the hot summer months. However, several residents contacted the county with legal and environmental complaints, so a park ranger arrived during Thursday’s session and told the participants to cease such activity or face a $200-per-horse fine.
“We’re all really disappointed because we tried so hard not to disturb anybody and to be good neighbors,” said Samantha Perry, who started the Facebook group Pony Swim. “It’s really upsetting.”
Her Facebook group has more than 300 members, though each session tends to have around 30 participants. She said they chose “off-peak” times, usually weekday evenings, to avoid upsetting neighbors and that they always took painstaking care to pick up any horse droppings.
Ms. Perry also said she had never heard any complaints before the park ranger arrived.
“People would ask, ‘when’s the next Pony Swim? I want to come see it with my grandkids,’” she said. “Nobody ever came down and said anything. It was all positive feedback.”
In response, some members of the group and their supporters are trying to convince the county to allow riding on the beach.
According to the Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation, Pony Swim cannot acquire a permit for Cedar Beach because that park does not grant horse-related permits. In fact, horses are allowed at only one Suffolk County beach.
“It’s not a horse park,” said Emily Laurie, community relations manager for the Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation. “It’s a beach where people like to go sunbathing and bring their children. It’s not designated for horse use.”
Horses can be ridden in certain designated parks, and Smith Point County Park is the only beach where horses are allowed, though a permit is required and horses are only allowed Nov. 1 through May 1. Under section 643-4 of the county’s code, bringing horses or other livestock onto other parks, including Cedar Beach, is forbidden.
“Who wants to ride their horse in the dead of winter on an ocean beach?” said Ms. Berry, who plans to ask the county to open more beaches for horse visits during the summer.
Southold resident Jill Franke wrote a petition and will begin gathering signatures as soon as Monday night.
She said she is “fed up” with the fact that there are very few areas on the North Fork where horses are permitted to walk or swim.
“You walk by somebody’s house with your horse and they scream,” she said. “There’s nowhere to ride anymore.”
Ms. Perry also started an online petition on change.org. By noon on Tuesday, she had gathered more than 330 supporters.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he is supporting their efforts, though he clarified that the town had no role in the shutdown since the beach is county-managed.
“I think their request to establish specified days and specified times is a common sense solution,” he wrote in an email.“I told her I would contact the county on her behalf.”
County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said one concern about having horses on the beach is that their excrement can add damaging bacteria into Peconic Bay.
“That’s where you get the bacteria that is a pathogen that closes down surface waters to shellfishing,” he said.
Some riders were frustrated that the county only just shut down their activities — especially since Pony Swim has received media attention in the past — but Ms. Laurie said that is because the department did not know about the group until recently.
Supporters of the group also see the move as hypocritical given that the county does not address other code violations and environmental concerns on the beach.
“One specific thing they say is that there’s bacteria in the water,” said Cynthia Wells, who lives less than two miles from Cedar Beach. “But look at those gorgeous lawns that they have on each one of those properties surrounding Cedar Beach. They don’t get there without using fertilizer.”
Ms. Wells said she has also seen rotting fish and deer carcasses on the beach, an indication that horse droppings aren’t the only thing threatening local waters.
“It’s like the county’s coming out and banning specifically, just picking and choosing what they’re going to enforce,” she said. “It seems like a wealthy homeowner calls up and they respond to that.”
While it’s uncertain whether Pony Swim and its allies will be successful in changing the county’s mind, they are hopeful.
“Everybody who sees it enjoys it — except for these irate homeowners,” Ms. Wells said. “The quality of life, the specialness — it just doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
Photo caption: Pony Swim organizers usually tried to ride at Cedar Beach in the evening to avoid disturbing neighbors. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo file photo, Aug. 21, 2014)