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Beachgoers raise stink at what's left behind after annual horse ride on beach

Horses on parade: American Heart Association's annual ride graces beach

More than 1400 horses and riders took to the beach to raise a goal of nearly $300,000 for the American Heart Association during their annual ride in Nov. 2015. Horses and riders stretched from Lakewood Campground to 53rd Avenue North in Myrtle Bea
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More than 1400 horses and riders took to the beach to raise a goal of nearly $300,000 for the American Heart Association during their annual ride in Nov. 2015. Horses and riders stretched from Lakewood Campground to 53rd Avenue North in Myrtle Bea

It’s not the recent horse ride on the beach for charity that has some beachgoers complaining -- it’s what’s left behind.

The city of Myrtle Beach and Horry County -- the two jurisdictions where the annual American Heart Association beach ride occurred Nov. 7 -- have received several complaints about the horse manure that was left on the beach after the 20-mile ride.

Crews clean up after the horses, but don’t get it all. Nice weather that weekend might also have led to more folks than usual on the beach dealing with the horse droppings. During the five-day AHA event, the temperatures ranged from the 70s to the 80s with sunny skies throughout. The day of the ride, the temperature rose to a high of 81.

“If the weather is rainy or 50 degrees, the horses are there but there aren’t as many beachgoers,” Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea said.

The five-day gathering at Lakewood Camping Resort, in its 34th year, has grown tremendously and now attracts more than 1,400 horses and 2,000 participants. The beach ride starts at Lakewood and travels through Myrtle Beach city limits.

2,000 peopleParticipate in the American Heart Association five-day fundraising event at Lakewood Camping Resort

The city’s Beach Patrol reported this year was one of the cleaner ride-a-thons, although it still received a dozen or so complaints, Kruea said.

“The Heart Association team did pick up most of the manure after the ride. They had a clean-up vehicle that trailed along after the final riders,” Kruea said. The Beach Patrol reported that while small amounts may have been missed and the ocean may have washed some back in with the tide, most of it was gone no later than the morning after the ride, Kruea said.

A vehicle and volunteers are designated each year to collect manure off the beach and were there this year performing their duty, said Becky Fallan, AHA’s senior director of development in the Myrtle Beach office.

She agreed with Kruea’s assessment that the exceptionally nice November weather probably brought out more beach goers than they usually see during the ride.

“Typically in November, it’s cold and very few people are on the beach. This year, was an exception...When the forecast predicted warm weather the AHA reached out to local media outlets to inform (local) residents that horses and riders would be on the beach,” Fallan said.

Fallen said while the annual event raises close to $300,000 to fight cardiovascular disease and stroke, it also helps stimulate the local economy during a slower season.

“We receive many calls from individuals who do not participate in the Beach Ride but want to book a local hotel on the route so they can watch the horses on the beach,” she said. “Many local hotels and restaurants benefit from the influx of visitors.”

The ride has certainly grown through the years and the number of horses multiplied. It is time for us to think about capacity.

Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea

The AHA was required to obtain a special event permit from the city, and City Council passed a resolution to allow the ride-a-thon to be held Nov. 7 on the public beaches. The resolution further specified an exact route where the riders could gain access and egress to the beach, required they not ride on or cross any primary or secondary sand dunes and not ride in groups of more than six horses at a time. The resolution also called for the AHA to clean the beach and all city rights-of-way impacted by “debris of any kind—in particular all horse excrement.”

It is not unusual for the horse ride to generate some complaints but Kruea said people need to be aware that horse manure “from a bacterial standpoint” does not pose the same risks that human or dog excrement does.

“And yet it is hard to overcome, wow, that’s a lot of horse manure,” he said.

And yet it is hard to overcome, wow, that’s a lot of horse manure.

Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea

Dr. Karen Bolten, veterinarian and owner of Myrtle Beach Equine Clinic, said there are differences and similarities between the feces of all species.

“Of course, the differences lie mainly in the food consumed (and therefore excreted), but there are also differences in parasites that are found in the manure and bacterial content, both of which may impact people as they are active on the beach,” Bolten said.

“When it comes to the issue of horse manure on the beach, although of course it would be ideal (although not practical) for riders to clean up after their horses, I think it's more of an aesthetic issue than it is a true medical risk,” Bolten said.

She added, “In my understanding (without the exact numbers in front of me right now), many of our local beaches at times already have poor water quality, so the amount of further contamination by the small amount of horse manure left behind by riders is absolutely negligible in the scheme of things. People should be far more concerned about the actual water quality, and instead focus on maintaining good hygiene practices such as showering after swimming and washing their hands before eating. The beach is a natural habit, contaminated by many different marine sources, and that's far more of a risk to the health of swimmers and other beach-goers than the horse manure.”

Tom Garigen with the Horry County Stormwater Department said horse feces are not considered a significant source of bacteria or viruses that are harmful to humans due to their vegetative diet and digestive systems. He suggested that for future events of this type, it is important that organizers make sure they have a cleanup crew to properly dispose of the excrement.

An Horry County ordinance prohibits any animal to be ridden on the public beach without a special permit that would establish certain zones for the activity. Horses can enter the unincorporated beach through Myrtle Beach State Park from Nov. 1 through Feb. 28 but only in groups of six or less and only in designated equestrian zones that are south of Myrtle Beach and north of Surfside Beach. Some local businesses even promote equestrian beach rides online.

Horry County Public Works Director David Gilreath said the county had three complaints called in because of the beach ride, and department staff received several as they worked to clean up the beach from beachgoers.

This is not their first rodeo and we had no complaints here.

Mary Kate Allen, spokeswoman for Lakewood Camping Resort

While Kruea said most of the dozen or so complaints that were made within the city limits addressed the excrement issue, some people said they were made uncomfortable due to the proximity of the horses to them while they were visiting the beach. He said with the ride’s continued growth, it could be time for the city to evaluate whether to allow the ride only during colder weather when fewer visitors would be on the beach He said it could also be time to cap the number of horses allowed.

“The ride has certainly grown through the years and the number of horses multiplied,” he said. “It is time for us to think about capacity.”

That might not be an issue, according to Lakewood spokeswoman Mary Kate Allen, who said the camping resort sold out this year and has “reached its capacity” for the ride-a-thon.

“We cannot accept any more than we had. There’s a limit and we can’t make more land,” she said. She did say, however, that riders and campground staff work diligently to keep the area clean using huge dumpsters to collect the manure where it is hauled to a farm in Conway.

“This is not their first rodeo and we had no complaints here,” she said.

Angela Nicholas can be reached at aknicholas28@gmail.com.

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