My-Turn-thumbBy Carla Lange

Horse sense is common sense on our crowded trails

Since I have observed more and more bike riders in the valley and on local mountain trails, I feel compelled to say something about the safety issues related to horses and bikes, or for that matter, trail runners, ATVs and joggers/hikers with uncontrolled dogs.

Horses have always been known as flight animals. They do not fight when threatened, they flee. So if you are on top of your horse, and a fast-moving bike comes up from behind, or around a corner in front of you, most likely you are going to be on the ground in a matter of seconds. For the rider, serious injury is possible, and if nothing else, a short day, and a ruined ride for all concerned.

These little bits of information about safety on the trails go for all disciplines of recreation. Speak when approaching a horseback rider. Do not ride up behind a horse fast or while approaching one from the front. Remember, they are flight animals, and if you come at them fast, they might buck, or turn and bolt, throwing the rider. Slow and steady is the safest approach, then when you get close, stop and talk to the rider.

I personally know of three people who recently have been thrown off of their horse when approached by fast-moving bikes whose riders either did not speak as they were approaching, did not stop, or were going way too fast around corners on the trail. I know bike riders love that fast pace, with head down looking at the trail, but you need to look up once in a while too.

Most hikers know the etiquette while meeting a horseback rider. You need to speak loudly so the horse knows you are a person. While meeting the horseback rider all you need to do is talk, say hello, say anything, just speak! If you are carrying walking poles or sticks, keep them low so the horse doesn’t think they are whips and you will be hitting him. If you will step off to the side of the trail on the downhill side, that would be preferred, because if the horse is going to spook, it’s better they spook uphill, and not on the low side, over the cliff. Horses will move away from scary objects.

Trail runners are another scary monster to the horse. Anything coming at a horse at a fast pace is going to frighten them! Please slow down when you see us on the trail, talk to us, and go on and enjoy the rest of your run. If you have your beloved pooch with you, keep him at your side. A lot of horses and mules will kick a dog out of fright if they get too close. If they just get a glimpse of the dog running ahead of you, and at them, the horse might think it’s a cougar or bear after them.

Motorcycle riders and ATVs riders, you all know what to do here. Please get as far off the trail as possible, and shut off your engine. Take your helmet off so the horse can see you are a real person on that machine, and talk.

I cannot say how important it is for all outdoor enthusiasts to talk to the horseback rider, let the horse know you are a person.

Most of what I’ve mentioned here is just common sense. However, I have found that a lot of people are not educated about horses, so I’m trying to help, not nag. I hope I haven’t offended anyone, and I hope to see some of you on the trail.  If we meet, let’s talk.


Carla Lange lives in Methow.