Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sharing the Trails with Horses

An acquaintance of mine loves to mountain bike. He travels to various locations and participates in mountain biking expeditions, as well as riding regularly in the Eastern Sierra. He mentioned that there are a lot of horseback riders on the trails where he bikes. He said that some horses are really good, but most freak out when they see a bicyclist. For that reason, he's never sure what to do when he comes across a horse.

I explained that horses always have the right-of-way on a trail. If you see a horse up ahead, pull over and wait for it to pass you. Be careful not to stop behind a bush, rock or tree, because then the horse might become even more frightened, thinking that you are hiding so that you can jump out and attack it when it passes. Always make sure the horse sees you. Act natural and speak to the horse or the rider. Horses are less likely to spook if they are the ones approaching the scary object, as opposed to the scary object approaching them.

If coming up from behind a horse, call out to the rider and ask what to do. The rider knows the horse better than anyone. Bicycles are fast and quiet, so attempting to pass a horse from behind can startle it worse than approaching from the front. The rider will probably choose to turn the horse to face you as you pass, and perhaps ask you to walk your bike while passing. In the case of ATVs and other motorized vehicles, it is always best to cut the engine if you can't avoid being within a few yards of a horse.

After talking to this acquaintance about the nature of horses, he developed a better understanding of what goes on for both a horse and rider when sharing the trails with other vehicles, hikers and dogs. I also developed a better understanding of these people we trail riders share the trails with. I used to think that people who spooked my horses were just plain rude and did not care about my welfare. Now I realize that they just don't know anything about horse psychology. Many of them view horses as if they are simply vehicles. However, once you pour a heart, a mind, prey instinct and some adrenaline into the mix, a horse is way more than just a ticket up and down the mountain.

It's our job as trail riders to educate others. By having this conversation, maybe I helped prevent an accident somewhere down the road. Even if you don't trail ride, you can help others who do by teaching Horse Psychology 101 to the hikers, dog walkers, mountain bikers, ATVers, and motorcyclists you know. Spread the word and you can help create good company on the trails.


Jenn said...

One of the first things I like to desensitize my horses to are bicycles and baby carriages...because both are great big scary horribly frothing horse eating MONSTERS!

Most bicyclists I've come across are very nice...they enjoy the outdoors as much as I do and seem to recognize another outdoors lover. Most will slow down and I've had quite a few start talking to me if they are coming up behind me, just to let us know they are there. I do a lot more back road riding than trail riding, so bicyclists are VERY common...and I think because a lot of bicyclists around here ride the back roads, they understand that horses can freak out a drop of a hat.

Because I do so much road riding my horses must must must learn not to freak out every time something scary comes by. I was so proud of my old mare when an excessively loud diesel truck came flying by us with a tarp banging around and snapping in the wind behind it. It scared ME and she stood perfectly still and stared at it. Her eyes were bulging out and she was huffing and snorting like mad, but she didn't move. I could feel every muscle in her body tense and ready to RUN and her heart was pounding, but she didn't move. Right then and there I knew I'd done an okay job teaching her how to respond safely and appropriately to her fear. :P

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Jenn - Of course, I recognize that it is the horse owner's responsibility to train the horse to react safely when exposed to new things, but most people are lucky to get a spare weekend to work with their horses. Every horse has to have its first trail ride and its first time to be exposed to each new thing, and I would hope those who share the trail are as knowledgeable and considerate as the bicyclists in your area for the sake of those inexperienced horses (and riders).

Callie said...

This is a good post. A couple of years ago, I took a novice friend out on Misty, solid as a rock and myself on Dakota, a bit green on a shared bike trail. The horses were good with approaching bikes as they could see them, Dakota a little spooked would each time relax with a new bike. I periodically turned the horses around to watch for bikes from behind. And that worked well for us until a jerk rode his bike right up onto Misty's butt and she nearly kicked him. I yelled at him and asked if he was stupid! He just sat there and smiled. What a jackass!

Andrea said...

That is so true. I used to think those other people were so rude too! I guess some just don't get it.

Vaquerogirl said...

Good post. I've been trying to sell an article about this to bike magazines, but so far no takers! You said it all very well!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Good message, NM.

I once had a biker complain to me that they didn't think horses belonged on hiking trails because they left poop all over the place that humans and bikes had to avoid or plow through.

Trail useage is a pretty touchy subject. All we can do is learn to share and cooperate.

Thanks for your reminder :)


Kristen said...

I have been lucky that when I ride ditch banks motorcycles, quads, and such are always really courteous.. Even riding along the Rio Grande bike riders would stop and let us pass- No bad experiences yet, and the poop comment would make me laugh.. Its not like its dog poop, but I guess some bike riders might be over anal..

Shirley said...

Good post. Non horse people can't be expected to understand horse behavior, so it's up to us to help them understand. Like in Callie's comment, some of them think it's fun to scare the horse, not realising that they (or someone else)can get seriously injured. It doesn't help to get angry or berate those types- I just turn my horse to face them. It usually makes them back off when they are on the receiving end.

Katee said...

Loose dogs on the trail have always been my biggest problem. People have control over bikes and ATVs and baby strollers. They have very little control over a loose dog who has never seen a horse before.

Here's what I would tell them:
Your loose dog is going to get hurt OR you are going to get hurt trying to get control of your loose dog OR I am going to get hurt trying to stay on my horse who is convinced your loose dog is trying to eat him.

My horse actually loves dogs, but if your dog doesn't know how to behave around a horse, please keep him on a leash until he learns. The last thing I need is for your usually housebound shepherd to see my horse and have his natural instincts kick in, screaming "HERD!"

Black Jack's Carol said...

Wow! Excellent post. I haven't had a horse for many years, but through dp's blog, am connecting to that world again. I worked for a year, exercising horses along a dirt road, but it still had quite number of cyclists, joggers and vehicles. Each horse dealt with that traffic in its own particular way. Now that I do a lot of cycling, I occasionally feel grateful for that past experience when I meet horses. Calling out to ask the rider is a great idea.