This article first appeared in the July 17, 2014 edition of the Vermont Standard.
By Katy Savage
S. WOODSTOCK — Out of frustration with general practices at Green Mountain Horse Association, two people have closed down their trails, according to Dana Waters.
Laura Spittle, who owns a tack shop near GMHA, closed her trails that sit on 280 acres connecting South Woodstock to Reading after a disagreement with GMHA. Spittle says she has a signed 2006 purchaseand- sales agreement that prohibits GMHA from operating or hosting a competing tack shop on its premises.
“They said they would honor it but they have not honored it,” Spittle said.
Spittle and her mother sold GMHA 2-3 acres in 2006 located behind her Vermont Horse Country Store that is now known as the Upwey Field. In that warranty deed, it says the, “Grantee shall not operate, or permit to be operated, a tack shop or a multi-product equestrian retail shop, whether permanent or transient, on the conveyed land so long as a tack shop remains in operation on grantor’s retained land.”
Dana Waters, who was chair of the board at the time of the agreement, believes this is a discrepancy in the wording of the document. Waters was off the board for six years, but recently joined again in June.
“(In) my view, we have not violated the intent of the deed,” Waters said.
But according to Spittle, there is another document — a purchase and sales agreement — that says the “sale is subject to a non-competition agreement to be agreed upon that would basically not allow the purchaser to operate a tack shop” on GMHA premises as long as a full-service tack shop remains in open in the current location, Spittle said.
Spittle would not provide the document for the Standard to inspect.
There have been vendors on GMHA property before, but not on the Upwey Field. Spittle said she has sent letters to GMHA in previous years when there are tack vendors on GMHA land, but with the vast turnover in executive staff at GMHA and the board — there have been three chairs in the past year — the intent of the original agreement was forgotten.
“The only reason I closed my trails was to get their attention,” she said.
Waters remembers the purchase-and-sales agreement and he said that board members signed it, but lawyers he’s talked to, say that the deed is the controlling document.
GMHA uses hundreds of miles of trails and relies on easements and donors for various events throughout the year such as the 100-mile trail ride and 25-mile ride.
Spittle isn’t the only person who has closed her trails. Ashley Pakenham also closed off her assortment of trails that sit on about 300 acres in West Windsor. Pakenham continues to allow those not involved with GMHA on her property, but she’s closed the trails for GMHA events.
“In the last several years there have been some problems with the way landowners have been treated with their trails,” she said.
Pakenham wouldn’t elaborate, but she said her concerns are related to Spittle’s. She didn’t know when she would open her trails again.
“There have been issues that have been sloppily handled and it’s been difficult to rectify them very easily,” said Pakenham who had allowed GMHA to use her trails for events for the past 25-30 years.
Jane Rodd said she’s unclear why Pakenham’s trails are closed. She became GMHA’s executive director just over a year ago. Rodd knew there would be some instances where trails that would be good for one sport wouldn’t be good for another discipline, or different riding style.
She didn’t think residents would want to close off their trails.
“(I understand) why people would be upset if they felt like that discipline was being neglected. I did not anticipate that it would be so acrimonious,” she said Upcoming events including a conditioning distance ride Aug. 2-3 and the 78th annual 100 Mile Competitive Trail Ride Aug. 29-31, have been rerouted — a plan that GMHA had before the trail closures happened.
In a statement from GMHA the organization said it “values the service provided by the Vermont Horse Country Store to their competitors and the support given to the organization over the years.”
Spittle put a sign on her trails more than a month ago prohibiting riders and walkers.
“Everyday I look out at those signs and it breaks my heart,” she said.
GMHA and Spitttle were hoping to clear the issue this week. Lawyers from both parties were going to meet Wednesday night — after the Standard’s deadline.
Spittle has ridden on her trails since she was 9 or 10 years old.
“It was always my intention that they would be open to everybody,” Spittle said.