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Share the Trail
By Charlotte Orr
Photo of Charlotte Orr on a trail ride with her horse, "Good Knight Moon" -Photo Courtesy of Nikki Bahlman
Experienced trail riders know that it is the responsibility of each individual to determine not only their own safety out on the trail, but also the safety of their horse and other trail users. There was a time when my horse was younger that I worried about encountering other trail users. You never know how people are going to react when they come face to face with a horse. After years of blood, sweat, tears and desensitizing, I am now the proud owner of one of those “hard to scare” horses. But even the calmest horse can startle under the right circumstances.
This is not to imply that I don’t enjoy people admiring my horse. It’s always nice hearing compliments, and of course my horse, “Amigo” loves neck scratches, and sniffing pockets in the hopes that a carrot will magically appear. Most equestrians out on the trail just want to avoid situations that could result in a horse bolting, spinning, bucking, rearing, kicking out, or obtaining an injury.
Over the years I have learned that most people weren’t raised around farms, and have never been taught how to behave appropriately around horses. Out on the trail this can be dangerous for all parties involved, so I have identified a few things that I think are important for the public to know about “safe equine encounters.”
Quick safety tips for being around horses:
Always ask permission to approach a horse and rider. Like dogs, some horses do not appreciate strangers coming up to pet them.
The safest place to approach a horse is at the shoulder. Never approach a horse from the rear! Horses’ eyes are on the sides of their head; meaning they have blind spots. Horses cannot see directly behind them, or up to two feet directly in front of their face. A horse that cannot see you will be more likely to kick if they are startled.
Be calm, and use quiet body language. Horses are prey animals, and it is their natural instinct to react quickly and “out-run” what they perceive as predators. Sudden movements can cause a horse to spook (scare), bolt (run), or jump sideways.
Watch your feet! If you’re standing with your feet too close to a horse’s hooves they might accidently step on your foot. Horses can weigh upwards of 1,000lbs, so it really does hurt when this happens. It’s best not to approach a horse if you are wearing soft, or open toed shoes.
If you are really scared or nervous around horses, the safest distance to walk around them is about 10 feet away, which is outside their “kick zone.” Let the rider know you are uncomfortable around horses so they can make sure not to ride too close to you.
Here are 10 tips for sharing the trail:
1. Bikers yield to hikers.
2. Both bikers and hikers yield to horses.
3. Uphill traffic has the right of way; regardless of hiker, biker, or horseback rider.
4. Always be aware of your surroundings – watch for other trail users and let others know you are there by shouting a friendly “Hello!”
5. Go slow around the turns – you never know who will be right around the bend.
6. Always ask horseback riders if it is safe to approach, pet, or pass their horse. Otherwise you could end up startling the horse, or causing the rider to lose control and fall. Or you might just end up with a big hoof sized bruise somewhere on your body. Trust me, it hurts!
7. Make sure you’re on a designated trail. Going off the trail can destroy habitat and can be dangerous.
8. Respect the trail and be kind to other visitors. If the trail is muddy, or closed due to bad conditions, don’t use it. Riding in the mud will wreck the trail, which is not only expensive and time consuming to repair, but could prevent others from enjoying it during the dry seasons.
9. Have fun and be considerate of others. Loud noises, yelling, and screaming deters wildlife for viewing and could startle horses out on the trail.
10. If you are on a trail that allows dogs, please keep them leashed, or at least make sure they are under control at all times. Some people, and horses are not comfortable around dogs and do not want to be approached by them. This is for the dog’s safety, and the safety of everyone out on the trail.
"Spring Trail Ride" - Photo courtesy of Cathy Engstrom and her horse, "Summer"
Today, I am lucky enough to live near the public lands in the Berryessa Snow Mountain region, where there are boundless opportunities to trail ride.
We all want to get out there and enjoy the spring weather, so let’s just remember to be safe and share the trail!