Recreational Demand for Equestrian Trail-Riding

Uses studied:
Place: Statewide


This study found that the distance between a user’s home and the trailhead is the most important factor in determining how frequently a trail is used, though proximity alone is not enough if the trail lacks other equestrian-friendly characteristics. To provide the greatest benefit to equestrian users, land managers can look for opportunities to enhance existing trails near population centers with an avid equestrian population.


This study would be of interest to those who want to understand how equestrian trail ridership varies based on the distance people have to travel to reach the trail. The authors’ approach of aggregating trail characteristics into a single index gives all characteristics equal weight, when other research (see 36, 38) has shown that it is often one or two characteristics that have the biggest effect. A more recent study (see 38) identifies specific trail characteristics appealing to equestrian users.


The trails included in this study were in Kentucky and within a 150-mile radius of Lexington, population 300,843 in 2013.

Trail Type

The study included 29 randomly-selected trail systems, all of which were open to equestrian use.


The purpose of the study is to identify why users visit a particular trail multiple times, information that can be used to inform decisions of where to locate future equestrian trails or enhance existing ones. This study was conducted by university researchers; the specific funding source is not provided.


  • On average, respondents took 11 trips per year and traveled 66 miles to reach the trailhead.
  • On average, trailheads eight miles closer to a respondent’s home received one extra visit per year.
  • Adding one additional amenity to a trail – making it longer than 15 miles, adding scenic overlooks, installing trail markers, providing water along the trail, developing backcountry camping, or developing full-service camping and horse facilities at the trailhead – would increase the average number of user visits by four per year.
  • The average trail user’s monetized benefit, or “consumer surplus,” is $484 per trip. This is a measure of their well-being, in dollar terms, beyond what they have to spend to travel to the trailhead.
  • For every ten miles closer a trailhead is to a respondent’s home, their monetized benefit increases by $115.  In other words, it increases their personal benefit by 24 percent.


The authors administered a survey at trailheads, through trail-riding club meetings, and online through trail-riding clubs, and received 188 responses. This sampling approach does not allow one to calculate a response rate. Respondents were asked about the number of day and overnight trips to a trail in the previous year; the number of nights in different accommodations; their gender, age, education and income; and their zipcode. From the respondent’s zipcode, the authors calculated the distance a respondent traveled to a particular site.

The authors constructed a trail quality index, which is the sum of seven yes/no characteristics: whether it is a loop, if the trail is longer than 15 miles, if there are scenic overlooks, if there are trail markers, if there is water along the trail, if there is back-country camping, and if there is full-service camping and horse facilities. The index was adjusted to be on a 0 to 100 scale.

The authors use a statistical model to predict the number of times a trail user will visit a trail, based on the time it took a respondent to travel there, the trail quality index, and respondent demographics. From this statistical model the authors calculate the benefit to trail users, in monetary terms, for a day spent using the trails.


Blackwell, M., A. Pagoulatos, W. Hu, and K. Auchter. 2009. “Recreational demand for equestrian trail-riding.” Agricultural and Resource Economics Review 38(2): 229-239.