Sharing public trails with other people can be a little tricky when you're on horseback. Mutual respect is incredibly important for all trail users to be happy. Here are 5 tips for sharing public trails with other users.
Give People Plenty of Room: It's easy to forget that horses are big animals and very powerful. To those who haven't been around horses or are simply afraid, they can be very intimidating animals. It's common courtesy to give people on foot or on a bike a wide berth. If this means you move over on the trail to allow someone who is uncomfortable by, please do. At rest areas this should tip should also be followed. Wait with your horses away from the restrooms or benches. Also, try and park your trailer in a low activity area of the parking lot. This will be a lot easier on you and the horses as well.
Don't Bring Your Dogs: Save trail riding with your dogs for personal or wilderness trails where you're unlikely to see people. It's fairly impossible to control a dog from horseback, and there is no safe way to have a dog on leash while on a ride. Dogs can be bothersome to people and even the best trained ones may get excited and run off, jump up to people, or get underfoot. This is especially true for trails where you might encounter other riders. Not all horses will take kindly to a dog. The only situation where it may be permissible to bring your dog is if you're off popular public trails and your dog is well-trained. Dogs can be beneficial since they are wonderful early-warning systems to people, bicyclists and wildlife. Carefully weigh the pros and cons before loading your pooch into the car.
Pick Up After Your Horse: We might not mind stepping in horse poop but that can't be said for many other people. This is especially true on thin trails. Make an effort to either pick up after your horse or at the very least, move it off onto the side of the trail. If you're in a camping area or rest spot, and any other place where people gather, please be sure you remove any mess your horse makes. Also, for very long trail rides where you might stop to give your horse a bite to eat, always pick up any leftover grain or other food. This goes for your trailer area too. The seeds in hay that might be left behind can eventually sprout and grow into something that simply doesn't belong there.
Respect Flora (and Fauna): One issue that is brought up often by hikers is that horses cause too much damage to the land. There is no doubt that riding off trails or "brush-busting" simply shouldn't be done, especially if you're in a park or wildlife refuge. Horse's hooves can do quite a bit of damage to the ground, especially if it's muddy or slippery. Always stay on trails whenever possible. Another thing that can damage trees is tying horses to them. If you need to take a break and can't hold your horse, tie them to a specific post or buy a highline tree strap and attach your lead rope to that.
Be Friendly and Communicate: Horse people know that a bicyclist can look like a silent dragon on wheels to a horse if the person comes flying around a corner. Some horses that might not blink an eye at a loud dirt bike might be taken by surprise since a bicycle doesn't make noise. Folks who haven't been around horses simply don't know horse behavior and their reactions. If someone is coming quickly towards you on a bike, you can politely ask if they can slow down until you get past them. Don't be afraid to communicate with people if you feel they may startle your horse. On the same topic of communication, be friendly! You're probably enjoying the fresh air just as much as other people out on the trail. Saying hello is a great way to maintain the peace. More often than not people will even ask if they can pet your horse and might ask questions.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.