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Hikers, Bikers and Horses, Oh My! 9 Common-Sense Tips to Share the Trail

Or, “how to deal with fast-moving, noisy objects that are DEFINITELY going to eat your horse.”

[Top image: Horse Nation]

My dad is a lifelong cyclist and sometimes-triathlete. So I grew up learning to share the road. Even when cyclists take over an entire lane of country road for a stretch of three miles.

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Yeah…I was waiting here for a WHILE

I fail to understand why anyone enjoys racing down the road at breakneck speeds next to 18-wheelers and soccer moms with road rage,and  my dad doesn’t get why I enjoy putting my life in the hands (hooves?) of thousand-pound beasts of limited intelligence who run off in panic at the sight of a plastic bag. To each their own. But we do both understand the draw of going out on the trail on a beautiful day–on our preferred mounts, of course.

However, sometimes the relationship between these two types of riders can be rocky. Many horseback riders I know resent cyclists for barreling along windy country roads and trails, and a lot of cyclists simply don’t realize how spooky they can be to horses. (Though even I find the neon spandex quite alarming.) So here are some tips for happy trails–whether you’re on four hooves, two feet, or wheels.

Tips for Horseback Riders:

Desensitize your horse. Before you hit the trails, try to see how your horse reacts to different situations, from puddles on the ground to trees suspiciously blowing in the wind. If bikes and ATVs are common where you like to go trail riding, get someone to ride a bike or, even better, a noisy, scary ATV along your farm’s driveway so your horse becomes gradually accustomed to them.

Use the buddy system. It’s always a good idea to ride with a buddy in case of an emergency, and even better if your buddy has a quiet trail horse used to unexpected sounds and sights. Often green horses will decide bikers and hikers jumping out of the woods are no big deal if their trail buddy doesn’t think they’re a big deal either.

Educate others on the trail. Even if you’ve just practically peed your britches from your horse’s airs above the ground, start from the assumption that the other person on the trail simply doesn’t know anything about horses. Start with a friendly greeting and ask politely for the person to slow down or stop so your horse doesn’t spook.

Get off your high horse. Literally. If your horse is panicked and a cyclist, hiker, or ATV rider is unresponsive when you ask them to slow down or stop, just dismount and wait for the spooky object to pass. There’s no prize for staying on if it’s a danger to your safety.

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[Human Powered Trails]

Tips for Cyclists, Hikers and ATV Riders:

Stop when you see a horse. Yes…this means stepping off your bike or ATV for a moment. It might seem like an interruption of your own trail ride or hike, but horses, as much as we love them, are not the most rational of creatures. Giving the horse and rider time to see you (and realize that you are a human, not a dangerous wheeled creature) could save a life.

Communicate. Even if you’ve seen the horse before, or you know the rider personally, don’t assume that he or she will be able to keep the horse under control until you communicate. A simple, “Hey there!” works. Ask whether it is OK for you to pass at the next available spot, or whether it is safer for the horse and rider to go ahead of you.

Never come up on a horse from behind. As a brightly colored, fast-moving cyclist, or a noisy, rumbling ATV, you could very well be a predator in a horse’s mind…and you might just send the horse and rider pair galloping off into the next county. That’s not a good thing. Stop, and ask the rider if it is all right to pass at the next safe place.

Go slow around blind corners. Horses are easily startled by things suddenly appearing out of nowhere…as are drivers of cars!

Know the problem signs. Even though you may see horses majestically rearing and galloping in Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, those behaviors are generally not encouraged in the average trail horse. If you see a horse rearing, bucking, galloping uncontrollably, or skittering off to the side, stop and see if the rider needs you to call for help.

Got any other tips for safely sharing the trail? Share them in the comments below!

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