How to Make Shared Use Trails Work

Equestrians, walkers, joggers and bicyclists all want to use the same trails. There’s only so much public land and it’s important that trail users get along.

Here are some tips for that can help make trail users more comfortable with their shared existence.

Tips for cyclists and joggers:

  • Horses are animals and as such, are not predictable. Since they evolved as prey, they have strong flight instincts and can be spooked by creatures they don’t recognize. Things that look normal to us (someone wearing a back pack, riding a recumbant bike, or carrying a child in a back pack) can really frighten a horse.
  • If you come up behind a horse, please call out or ring a bell. If we know you are there we can prepare for you to pass. Talking to us is best because then the horse will understand that you are human. Every winter my horse gets spooked by cross country skiers the first few times we encounter them. As soon as they talk to us he calms right down.
  • Take your time when passing and leave plenty of room. On a road please don’t ride right next to us or at top speed. If you slow down and give us some room our horses probably won’t even flinch. On a trail, it may be better to wait for a wide spot, especially if you are pushing a stroller.
  • If a horse looks scared, please stop your bike or stroller and wait. We don’t want to disrupt your ride or walk, but we also don’t want you to get hurt. Please remember that the average horse weighs more than 1,000 pounds and has steel shod hooves.
  • If you’d like to pet a horse, please ask first. My horse is good with people and kids and I usually invite people to approach and get to know us but not every horse is so accommodating.

Tips for equestrians:

  • Make sure you have the skills to control your horse before you leave home. Sometimes it’s better to go out on the trail with an experienced trail horse to get your horse used to the sites and sounds.
  • Desensitize your horse to potentially scary things such as tarpaulins, flapping paper, dogs, etc. at home. Working with your horse will help build his confidence in you and will teach him how to accept new things. If your horse is scared of bikes, have a friend come over and ride a bike near you in a ring or a field until the horse starts to accept that bicycles are not dangerous.
  • If your horse doesn’t do well on their trail, don’t take him to areas where you know you’ll encounter hikers, joggers or cyclists. Work him in quieter areas until you gain more experience or, stay home. Not every horse enjoys being on the trail.
  • Remember that most people don’t know anything about horses or how to behave around them. In fact, many people are afraid of them. Don’t assume that people who ride close to you are being rude; they likely have no idea that they could cause an accident.
  • Talk to the people you encounter on the trail. Many people are really interested in learning about your horse. Be an ambassador for our sport.

With some mutual respect and education we can make our roads and trails safe and fun for everyone who wants to use them.

One Comment

  1. dana

    Thank you for posting trail guidelines. I wondered if there was much if anything I can post at our stables where lots of people ride out of and enjoy lots of great trails and public lands.
    We have a few inexperienced riders as well and inexperienced horses of late and the reports that they don’t have good trail manners is dissapointing.
    This will be posted where everyone will see them – if you don’t mind.
    Thanks again!!

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