Recently, Friends of Pathways received a few questions about how to share the trail with horses. We thought it was a great opportunity to get a little perspective from the Back Country Horsemen on horse behavior and sharing the trails. Thanks to the BCH for giving us a glimpse into the horse’s mind.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE HORSE KIND
By: Teton Back Country Horsemen
Horses are prey animals, and flight is their primary defense. Horses have had the right-of-way on trails because the horse has its own unpredictable reaction to every trail encounter. If the horse is not startled, the rider can maintain control and quickly move from blocking the trail.
What startles a horse is not always obvious. It might be approaching from the front quickly, or an oversized backpack or an odd fishing pole, or approaching quietly from the rear, or unfamiliar trail obstacles, or thrown gravel, or a strange bike. On rare occasions, a particular horse may not pass a rider/bike combo unless the bike is laid on its side.
For the safety of everyone, when encountering a horse on the trail:
1. Make sure the horse has seen you from a distance and knows that you are human. Slow down and prepare to stop. Give the rider a chance to quiet the horse. Call out in a friendly voice. Usually the rider will want to start a conversation with you for the horse’s benefit. Watch for the horse’s reaction. Keep the ‘small talk’ going as you approach and pass.
2. Look for guidance from the horse rider before passing. Horses need the upper side of the hill, and they will go there if startled. It is usually easier for the horse to leave the trail to bypass a biker.
3. Bring accompanying dogs under control. Even a friendly dog might appear threatening. Horses can and will kick dogs nipping at their heels.
4. Use extra caution on blind curves on the shared trails.
In addition, all users should use common sense and share-the-trail courtesy. If any user has the easier opportunity to accommodate the others, they should do it!