Back in the Saddle?

Gas Prices Altering Rural Life in More Ways Than One

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The front page of The Messenger, June 4th, 2008

Brad Aaron is on assignment in the Southeast this week.

My hometown of Madison, North Carolina, lies in the Piedmont-Triad region near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, just south of the Virginia line and about midway across state if you look east to west. It’s approximately 25 miles north of Greensboro, most famous for the Woolworth sit-ins of the civil rights era. When I was a kid it was more like 30 miles, but both towns have sprawled so much since then that Greensboro’s newest strip malls are a mere 25-minute drive, if that, from Madison’s ever-expanding subdivisions and mobile home parks.

Madison abuts its sister city, Mayodan (its namesake being the Mayo and Dan Rivers — the impetus and, for a long while, the lifeblood of its existence — it’s the only Mayodan on Earth). The combined population of the towns is around 5,000. Both have distinct, historic, walkable downtown shopping districts, though both are largely deserted due to the proliferation of "uptown" strips. Many of those, especially the ones built in the 70s and 80s, are abandoned these days as well, as the Kmart that helped put downtown business in dire straits was recently one-upped by a new Wal-Mart on the edge of town. And so it goes.

To my eyes, though the people of Madison and Mayodan rely almost exclusively on their cars to go anywhere (there is no public transit here), there are fewer full-sized trucks and SUVs on the road these days. I thought this might be a case of perception accommodating a conclusion, until I picked up a copy of today’s local paper, The Messenger ("Published twice weekly for loyal readers in Western Rockingham and Eastern Stokes counties").

Above the cover fold, but below the top story — a fatal car crash on the highway between Madison and Greensboro, not far from my parents’ home — is what at first appeared to be a feature on the winner of a recent M-M Saddle Club competition. Then I noticed the subheading.

Rising fuel prices affect horses, too

With gas prices soaring to record levels, many people are beginning to seek alternatives to gas-guzzling cars and trucks. But a weekend event in Mayodan proves the gas crunch even affects those who favor horses for transportation.

"The way gas prices keep climbing has forced us to try something new to make it easier for riders to make our horse shows," said Donald Joyce of Madison. "We decided to double up on events to cut down on the number of travel times."

The story goes on to report that participants are paying upwards of $100 in fuel costs to get their horses and equipment to and from local shows. The saddle club has started holding multiple events in one day out of fear that the normal 15-day schedule would result in lowered attendance.

Reading that first paragraph, I at first thought my hometown was looking to the horse as an alternative to driving. Who knows, maybe a few downtown hitching posts would do the trick.

  • Omri

    What would the horses ride on? Hard pavement is terrible for horses.

  • It was actually the mess created by horses — dead horses in the streets, diseases that spread rapidly through the horses in the city, and of course the horse droppings (which all created a pretty ghastly smelling city) that made people hope that motorized (or horse carriages) would end our urban ills.

  • Ben Fried

    Folks, Brad is offline most of the time while he’s on assignment, so if I may, I’d like to step in on his behalf and say that the headline and final sentence of this post are most definitely tongue-in-cheek.

  • If you think putting ethanol into cars is bad for the environment, everyone switching over to horses is much, much worse.

    Sure we wouldn’t travel as many miles or nearly as frequently, but you need a lot of grains to feed that horse just sitting in the stable waiting for the next trip.

    Cycling is the best return on miles/Kcal of food.

  • Hey brad when you get back, tell me something: did you used to work at the Flagpole in good ole Athens, GA?

  • Lumi

    For those of you who might think that horses might make good alternative transportation, think again.

    Gas prices and energy policy has effected horses in more ways than transport to shows.

    There’s a drought in the Southeast, which means that region bought up the hay in the Northeast, who now must get their hay from Canada. Supply and demand, plus increased transport and cost of gas jacked up the price of hay.

    Corn is being diverted to biodiesel, thus pelleted grain (a supplement feed to hay) has gone up.

    Wood shavings used as bedding in stalls is a byproduct of the housing industry. With the nationwide fall in housing starts, bedding has gone up.

    For those who remain undeterred, remember, safety first — always wear a helmet!

  • The prior comments appear to miss Brad’s key point, stated clearly by one of the horse-riding competition organizers: “We decided to double up on events to cut down on the number of travel times.”

    Once high prices to drive get on people’s radar not as a transitory irritant but as a new fact of life, adjustments begin to be made — by individuals, by families, most importantly by institutions. Doubling up on events is just such an institutional adjustment. Minuscule by itself, but representative of a sea-change, perhaps.

  • Brad Aaron

    Indeed I did, Steve.

  • I venture to say that in the writings of every philosopher, whether living or dead, who has written a significant amount about philosophical problems that are hard enough to be significant, there are already some assertions that we can know to be falsehoods. ,

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