Sunday, November 24, 2019

Safe Encounters with Horses on Shared-Use Trails - Full Article

American Trails contributor Dianne Martin shares some tips on how to safely share trails with horses.

by Dianne Martin
November 07, 2019

Growing up outside of a small town in southwest Michigan, we rode our horses in countless places. We would ride all day and never see the same trail twice, let alone another person. Nearly all of our neighbors gave us permission to ride, walk, and cross-country ski on their properties. I remember a long wooded trail owned by several landowners (mostly farmers) that was used by all the country kids to get into town from the outskirts. The age of injury liability and lawsuits was not yet upon us. I took this vast amount of land available to me for granted. I had no idea how lucky I was. Shrinking farmland, towns sprawling out into the green spaces, and the scare tactics by eager lawyers have made my childhood experience of sharing the land an idea generally only found in the past.

When I eventually made my home in southeast Michigan, I began to look for places to ride my horse, to ride my bike, and to hike. I discovered a new recreational concept to me at the time: public land. Thankfully, the area where I now reside is rich with public parks, many of which contain trails shared by various user groups. However, it quickly became apparent that many people have no experience with horses and do not know how to react when coming upon horses on shared use trails.

Horses are animals with minds of their own. Since they are prey animals, horses (even now as domesticated pets) are always on the lookout for predators, which in a horse's mind can look like a biker quickly approaching from behind or a hiker walking briskly towards them. A rider will not always have control over their horse, especially in a scary situation. It is this lack of control that can make an encounter with a horse a potentially dangerous one...for horse, rider, and for other trail users...

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