COLUMBIA — A bill moved forward Wednesday that would give horseback riders room to roam in Aiken County while protecting landowners from legal action if a rider takes a spill on their property.
The South Carolina Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Agriculture Subcommittee approved the bill, H. 4475, and sent it to the full committee for consideration. The proposal has already cleared the House.
Rep. Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta, who attended the Senate meeting, said the bill would shield property owners who allow horseback riders to cross through their land.
“Say the horse rears up they just fall off, and they say, ‘Oh, this is some rich land owner and I fell on his land. Let’s sue him,’ ” Hixon said. “And a lot of times people would settle.”
The legislation was introduced by Rep. Tom Young, R-Aiken, and drew co-sponsorships from Hixon, Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, and others. It would apply statewide but originated to draw together Aiken County’s trail fragments.
The proposal is aimed at simplifying the law and reducing the number of “ride at your own risk” posters about 300 county landowners would have to display on site. The primary goal, however, is to clear the way for an equestrian trail network in Aiken County by easing liability concerns of the private landowners who would be giving permission for horseback riders to enjoy the land.
The trail system is under way through efforts by community groups, including the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce and land conservationists. Over the past 16 months, community members have identified about 600 miles of trails across Aiken County that horseback riders are enjoying, according to Ed Scanlon, the manager of equine development for the Aiken chamber.
Aiken County’s equestrian industry is known as an economic engine among state leaders. A 2008 study conducted by University of South Carolina Aiken confirmed that its prominence has a growing influence on the area’s agriculture, business, sport, entertainment and recreation sectors.
The survey tallied 243 full-time workers, 106 part-time workers, 200 seasonal workers and 163 family members employed by the Aiken equestrian industry.
The reported payroll in 2007 was $3.1 million, according to the survey.