Would it surprise you to learn that Lindsey Cain Hearon, the new executive director of the Bedford Riding Lanes Association, is not an equestrian and knows next to nothing about horses?
Another surprising fact: “For the 10 years I’ve been a resident of Bedford, I have not supported BRLA. I never considered it. I was not a member,” she said in an interview this week.
Yet Wendy Belzberg, the president of BRLA, is emphatic that the board’s decision to hire Ms. Hearon was a slam-dunk. “We interviewed many candidates, and Lindsay just ticked every single one of the boxes,” she said. “Her roots are deeply embedded in the community, which we love. She is charming, she is energetic, she’s enthusiastic, she loves the trails, she has lots of great ideas, and she blew us away when she walked in the door.”
She relayed that, at one meeting during the interview process, Ms. Hearon asked, “What’s that thing called you tie a horse up to?” And, in Ms. Belzberg’s mind, that’s exactly what made Ms. Cain a perfect fit for her new role.
“We don’t want to be thought of as a horseback riding group only,” Ms. Belzberg said. In fact, she said BRLA is on “a big drive to make sure that people do not think we are for a snooty, exclusive, equestrian membership only. Our trails that cover over 100 miles are great for everybody. They’re great for dog walkers; they’re great for hikers.”
She said that Ms. Hearon, a former marketing executive at the Bedford Playhouse, has already increased BRLA membership and Instagram followers after just a few weeks on the job, which is exactly what they were hoping. “We’re teaching her about horses, and she’s teaching us about social media and PR,” said Ms. Belzberg.
Ms. Hearon spent five years as director of marketing and communications at the Bedford Playhouse. She loved the demanding position but left to focus on raising her two children in the midst of a pandemic. The trails played a part in maintaining her well-being.
Ms. Hearon said her transformation from nonmember to passionate advocate was a quick one. Phebe Wahl, the previous executive director, decided to step down in December.
“At that point, someone reached out to me to float the idea and see if I would be interested,” said Ms. Hearon. “It’s funny because my first reaction was, ‘I’m not a horse person, why are they interested in me?’ Little did I realize they weren’t necessarily interested in a horse person — their roots in the equestrian community are already very deep.”
During her initial conversations with the board, Ms. Hearon said, she realized “I’m a big outdoor enthusiast and I’m a runner, I love to hike with my kids, so everything they were hoping to do in this coming year, I was able to connect to and felt excited about.”
Ironically, her biggest connection to BRLA — her love of walking the trails — was actually a big no-no because she was not a member. “Lindsay didn’t even know you have to be a member to walk the trails,” said Ms. Belzberg, “which I found really funny. But a lot of people don’t realize you have to be a member.” The trail system exists, Ms. Belzberg explained, because private landowners “allow us to walk through their property, and we ask in return that people respect the privacy of the landowners and that they join.” BRLA depends on membership dues to help pay for maintaining the trails, she noted.
Now that she is a member, Ms. Hearon extolled the benefits. “Once you get that trail map in your hands, it’s such an amazing feeling — the realization that there are over 100 miles of trails right in our backyards. What we have here is pretty unique. Think about the fact that you can pack a lunch or grab your dog or meet a friend and go for a walk or a run all the way from Fox Lane to Harvey School.”
Her personal revelation about the breadth of BRLA’s trail system, said Ms. Hearon, has become a prime motivation in her new role. “I realized I wanted to be the person to tell that story. I am the person to tell that story and get people to join.”
In a letter introducing herself to the BRLA community, Ms. Hearon encapsulated her feelings: “For years I have enjoyed the BRLA trails with my family, friends and our dog, Nash, and — like many of you — I have been so grateful for them during the challenging times we have all experienced over this past year.”
The story she tells now is one of success. “In this tragic year, there are very few success stories,” she said, “but BRLA is one. Our membership numbers are up; people who have always been curious are going to the website and joining up. Somewhat unexpectedly, COVID presented itself as BRLA’s moment in the spotlight. Whether people were trying to get outside, or see friends from a safe distance, or snowshoe, they provided a safe place to get together — and we’ve had very little chance of that for the past year.”
BRLA will be continuing to hold events that are COVID-sensitive. “We still have all our horse events for the equestrian community, but it is time to expand our reach,” said Ms. Hearon. “There are a lot of ways to take the trails and share them with people in our community with varied interests.”
Next month, BRLA is planning an event called Run vs. Ride, said Ms. Hearon. “It pits runners and riders to keep track of their mileage throughout the entire month of April, no matter where they are, to see who has more mileage under their belt during a typical spring month.” Participants will use an app to calculate their mileage totals.
Ms. Hearon said she also plans to mobilize BRLA’s volunteer groups this spring with a focus on trail maintenance. “Whether you’re a teenager who wants to come out and clear logs with your friends, or someone with a chainsaw who wants to come out and cut them, we can use your help,” she added, noting the organization has just one staff member responsible for the trail work throughout its extensive system. “After a long winter, it takes a while to get the trails back in shape. We depend on volunteers to help.”
Community members who are interested in volunteering can reach Ms. Heron at email@example.com.