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Horses and Bikes Together? March 19, 2011

Posted by Dave Of Prescott in Just Stuff, Mountain Biking, trails.
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This morning the Prescott Mountain Bike Alliance had a group ride out in Granite Basin.

Part of the event was a pow wow of sorts with representatives from a local equestrian club.  The horse folks made a presentation about how horses perceive bikes and other things and then what we as bikers can do when we come upon horses on the trail.  Trail etiquette 101.

UPDATE: Here are some trail etiquette guidelines that IMBA just published today 4/3/2011

They told us that horses know we are coming toward them long before their riders do, and that when we see horses while mountain biking, we should call out (no bells, or horns) to them, and ask them if we need to get off our bikes.  They know their horses, and will instruct us on what to do.  Some horses are used to bikes and the horses will just step off the trail and their rider will instruct us to just ride on by (slowly). Others will ask us to dismount and walk by.  And there are others that will ask us to dismount, step off the trail with our bikes and let the horses go by us.  When we do step off the trail, they ask that we stay in the open (not behind trees or bushes) so the horse can see us.  Horses view things that they are not used to as predators, and so it is important to continue talking in a normal voice so the horse knows that we are human.

There are those people out there that want to stir up controversy and try to make it seem that equestrians and mountain bikers are adversarial, but that is just not true for 99% of us.  We recognize that these trails on public lands are for all of us and we do what we can to make any interaction as pleasant and smooth as possible.

The equestrians that spoke to us brought up two things that we hear mountain bikers complain about a lot.  Piles of horse manure in the trail, and horses riding on muddy trails and tearing them up.  I for one was glad that they brought this up and it didn’t have to come from on of the bikers there.  The horse folks said that they should be moving the manure off the trail, and added that experienced equestrians do not ride when the trails are muddy.

This notion of experienced vs. green horses and riders are what prompted a question from me, “Are there steps that equestrians should take to get their horses used to bikers and hikers before taking them out on multi-use trails?”

The answer was yes, that if they are planning on having their horse in an area where it could come across hikers, dogs, or bikers, the owner themselves should take the time to acclimatize their animal to these possibilities.  However many do not.  There have been many cases of bikers being yelled at by people on horses, saying things like, “Stop, my horse is afraid of bikes!  Or event telling us that we do not belong on the trails.

It was nice to hear that these leaders of  the horse community agree that through joint awareness with bikers and hikers, and all three groups taking the time to prepare for the eventual on trail encounter, we can and will make taking to the trails a fun and enjoyable experience for all of us.

After the meetup, we went on an 11 mile ride down the Mint Wash Trail 345 to the junction with the 308, where we turned around and backtracked then took the 347 back up to complete our loop.  On the way, we encountered horses on 3 occasions, and in all 3 the horses stepped off the trail and waved us by.  Perfect!