Due to an incident, I had to post the following PSA to my FaceBook account, as well as the FB Group for The Silver Comet Trail:
After having to yell at three inconsiderate, unsafe cyclists while crossing the Rail Road bridge (see attached picture) while riding my horse on the Silver Comet Trail this past Saturday due to THEIR failure to yield, I respectfully remind all cyclists:
Georgia Law is Clear: Horses and Pedestrians have right of way over any wheeled vehicle, including bicycles. When you see a horse/rider crossing a bridge (whether mounted or not), please.....just take the 20 or 30 seconds necessary to WAIT until the horse/rider have crossed to the other side. It will not hurt your training to wait.....on the contrary, it will save your life.
Coming straight on at a rider or, worse yet, coming up behind a horse on a bridge is an accident waiting to happen for all parties. Should that horse spook and wheel around, you and your bike are going over the side. Should that horse spook and rear, the rider is going over the side and the horse will take off.
I had a cyclist this past Saturday who took his and my life into his own hands by coming RIGHT up the butt of my horse on the right. I had nowhere to move to because I had another cyclist heading straight at me on the left!!!! Both gentleman are very lucky I have a well-trained mare because any other horse would have jumped toward the thing that scared them and one of them would have gone over the side to their certain death.
Please ladies and gentlemen. We can enjoy the trail together. Just 20 seconds of waiting could mean the difference between a lovely ride on a spring day and a trip to the morgue in a body bag.
I am not normally a yeller....I try to exhibit patience as much as possible but when someone's insistance on being in a hurry puts me and my horse's life in danger, sorry buddy..... you're gonna catch it!
Alas, from now on, if I desire to ride east and cross that bridge, I'll have to do so in the very early hours of the morning prior to most cyclists awakening.
<>< Sorrow Looks Back. Worry Looks Around. Faith Looks Up! -- Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may be given a cactus, but you don't have to sit on it.
Many horses I know wouldn't be happy with that bridge without any bikes around.
It is the " its all about me" society showing up. I think I am more important than you- everybody else needs to get out of my way because I am too important- even if I don't have the right of way.
It is also the society that has no responsibility for their own actions.
(It is never their fault, it is always somebody else's)
Glad your horse coped with the potentially bad situation well.
My DH is a tri-athlete and sometimes trains on a trail that is heavily travelled by all kinds of traffic, horses included. There is actually a tunnel at one point of the trail. He always waits at the bridges/tunnels and will let the rider know when he is passing to make sure the horse will be okay. Some people are just not that "aware". Oh--he said to add the tunnels to your PSA :-)
Cyclists freak my horse out even when he can see them coming from a quarter of a mile away. The fact that they are so silent started it. Now he says they just simply look like aliens with those funky aerodynamic helmets on. "Silent, shiney, swooping aliens". Sometimes I have to say "Please speak so he knows you're a human!"
If we got caught on that bridge with a cyclist, there would be some serious casualties.
I hear ya' Chocomare and feel your pain. There are several bridges like the one in your picture (minus the high sides) on our local American Tobacco Trail. Alas, too many cyclists can not read/understand the signs posted on both sides of each bridge!!
I had an idiot pedal up behind me on my horse one time as we were crossing one of the bridges. I asked him if he could read.
The sheer number of people (bikers and hikers/runners) that don't yield or pass safely are reason I will no longer ride my horse on the ATT. I can't fix stupid, but I can remove myself from the situation. Yes, it takes away a local riding trail, but I would rather not have to deal with the consequences of some idiot's actions.
I am also a mountain biker (with a brain).
ETA: MR G - looks like we are referring to the same trail and yes, the tunnel is a problem too even though there are signs posted there too. Solid cement walls, ceiling and floor...
Ugh, Chocomare, I'm so sorry you had to go through that. It's sad that their "share the road" often doesn't apply to trails and horses. But hooray for your mare for being the best she could be.
We have a beautiful trail by our house called the W&OD, but I stopped riding it years ago. It just wasn't safe for me or my horse, with all the inconsiderate bikers and completely clueless people. It just stopped being enjoyable. Fortunately for us, there are lots of other trails around.
I had a friend that I used to ride with in a city park, and he used to spin his horse around to make him look hot, so regardless of how inconsiderate or clueless those approaching us were, they would steer clear. Not something I'd recommend to regularly, but I can see it may have merits on one or two rare occasions.
"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." - Confucious
I can't even be sure my horse would get on that bridge in the first place. Gives me the shivers to think about what would happen IF I got him on the bridge and some idiot biker ran up his tail pipe. People simply don't THINK. I met a UPS truck on a dirt road years ago. The truck was coming down the center of the road at full speed and showed no signs of either slowing down or yielding. I was doing everything I could to get my horse off the road and out of his path. The horse was scared shitless and wouldn't jump the water in the ditch at the side of the road. I was making hand signals to the driver to slow down or stop or move over...he did neither. My horse in a panic ended up backing into the side of his truck as he sped by and leaving a very large butt sized dent. I screamed at him to stop! His response was "What do you expect me to do? Move over and let you go by??" My resonse was "yes, asshole that is the law!" I called his supervisor and explained the dent in the side of his truck, just in case the driver would claim ignorance. I never saw him on that particular route again. Idiot never even thought that a very large rattling truck coming down the center of dirt road spewing dirt and gravel might get me killed all he was thinking of was getting his route done as fast as possible.
"My biggest fear is that when I die my husband is going to try to sell all my horses and tack for what I told him they cost."
Yikes Choco, how scary! I'm so glad you and your mare survived it. Stupid cyclists is right!!
Our railroad bed trails have bridges, most go over water but one goes over a busy highway. I'd rather go over the edge into the water than on the highway. Every time we cross a bridge, we stop and look ahead and behind and make sure NOBODY is anywhere nearby. If there might be a chance of encountering someone on the bridge, we just stop and wait until they're over it, then we go. Of course that's difficult if there's a bend in the trail that you can't see around.
I've had run-ins with inconsiderate dog walkers, and bikers on public trails and it really irks me that people don't consider how dangerous their behavior is.
One time there were 2 young kids racing on their bikes, standing up pedaling with all their might. They were coming straight at us, and my horse and I had to go off the trail down into a ditch to get out of their way. They never slowed down, never even looked at me. There are places on the trail where you CAN'T get off because there are 10-20 foot drop offs!
I hope I don't start a war with this but the other danger we encounter are Amish buggies. There is one trail in particular they use to get from Point A to B and they don't slow down for NOTHING. Their horses are in a hard road trot and you better hope you can get out of the way. I've had to hang onto a spinning, bolting, rearing horse while their buggy whizzed by me and they made no effort to slow down. They could clearly see the trouble I was having. I hung onto the horse and thought - oh well, I guess its my fault for taking my horse out into the wide open spaces. It's my choice and my own consequences I guess. She's ok with them now, but that was the first time she'd seen one and for the life of her, she couldn't figure out why that big black box was chasing that horse.
My husband rides his mountain bike at Fair Hill in MD all the time with his buddies. I've really complained to him and told him that this property was designed for horses and that the bikes have no business taking it over or any other purpose for this park. He assured me that he and his friends are very consciencious of the horses. He doesn't think we have more rights to use it than they do, I disagree in the case of Fair Hill since it was created for the purpose of horse use and there are so few places where a horse can be safely ridden over so many acres. Bikes can go almost anywhere else and have what they need but horses, not so much which is no doubt why Willie DuPont created Fair Hill in the first place. If not for the DuPont estates this area wouldn't have much open space left.
Unfortunately, yes, some of them are idiots (as are some folks on horseback), but we need to keep in mind that they vastly outnumber us and so we never want to get into a situation where there is an 'either/or' vote.
Just now we are busy cracking down on unleashed dogs on one trail system. Our hidden cameras show violators to be equal opportunity ignorers-of-signage- on horseback, on bicycle, or on foot.
I've found that many cyclists are simply unaware that horses have a mind of their own and spook at things humans don't even notice. Many cyclists don't realize they can scare a horse simply by riding by.
Most of the cyclists I encounter at Fair Hill willingly yield the right-of-way, but I try to get out of their way instead. I want my horse to see bicycles going past. I do suggest they speak loud enough to be heard when they encounter a horse. Many don't realize they appear to be a predator to spooky horses.
Education is the best policy. If they don't know why they are supposed to yield the right of way (safety), they are more likely to ignore it.
It isn't just horses that idiot cyclist scare, I've had them come whizzing up behind me while I was out walking - can't hear them, they are supposed to say on your left or on your right - when they come flying by. I had one moron say "beep beep" when she was at my elbow. I was about to turn that way and head back. That would have been fun.
Then there was the bonehead who was 1)on the sidewalk 2) traveling against traffic 3) going really fast 4) crossing the drive way I was turning into, we were both going in the same direction - he was on the wrong side of the road. I almost hit him. He started to cuss me out and then I informed him he was in violation of about three laws. Did he want me to call the police? He left. Had someone stepped out onto that sidewalk he would have killed them. He had to have been doing about 40 MPH on the sidewalk. Ass.
Last edited by Seal Harbor; Apr. 6, 2010 at 06:18 AM.
There is not much you can do. There are just too many of them and we are heavily outnumbered. The trails I ride, while remote, are still close to L.A. So you do have a ton of bicyclists, especially on the weekend. It is mostly hilly terrain with some blind curves. I have learned to listen to the horse-if she starts getting tense approaching a blind curve, there is usually someone there-bicyclist or hikers or maybe a squirrel!
But I find the worst offenders to be the ones who ride with their music stuff on. They are just not paying attention and come downhill pretty fast. Fireroads are fine-but singletracks with dropoffs, of which they are many here-can get very scary. I just don't ride certain trails on weekends-too many weekend warriors. But otherwise my mare is fine with them. But most are actually curteous-some just don't know horse behaviour at all-so can't really blame them. The ones that seem to be listening to their ipods and seem to be in another world seem to be the most cause for concern.
Perhaps no animal has meant as much to the advance of human culture as the horse. Paleolithic man first looked to this grazing herd animal as meat on the hoof. The trick was getting close enough to strike. On the steppes where it evolved, the horse's keen eyesight, hearing and blazing speed made it just about safe from attack. Hunters of all species had to wait for the herd to maneuver into tighter quarters like in the woods along a stream or water hole.
Once the horse was domesticated, its trainability, strength and speed afforded human cultures a quantum leap forward. The horse became beast of burden, transportation and a devastating weapon of war. On the broad back of this noble beast, kingdoms were gained and kingdoms lost. Today, because of the relative fortune required to purchase and maintain a horse, equestrians are often wealthy and landed citizens: people with clout.
Therein lies the rub: mountain biking is a new sport whose devotees are relatively young and not rich. We all wish it were otherwise, but money talks. It is the horse owners who will be able to pull the right strings when conflicts arise. Therefore, it behooves (sorry) us to make friends of equestrians, rather than enemies.
A wary, fast animal of wide open spaces
But this issue is more than just a turf battle over trails between us young turks and them establishment types. It also has to do with safety. On the back of a startled horse, attached only by gripping thighs, a rider is in an extremely precarious position. And to a horse, a mountain biker screaming around a blind corner at Warp Nine looks like a nightmare from hell: alien, silent and horrifyingly fast.
While hiker-cyclist conflicts provoke most land access battles, chance encounters between horses and bicycles pose a far greater threat of injury and death. A horse, by design, is a nervous, cautious beast. Mountain bikers are, more or less, risk-takers. When these two very different users meet unexpectedly on the trail, the results are sometimes disastrous.
Deb Carano, a rider for 26 years and world-class equestrienne racer from New England, believes that the majority of unpleasant horse-bicycle incidents arise from our own ignorance about how this this herbivore perceives its world. When faced with potential danger, humans may choose to fight or flee. Horses have one response, and that's flight - right now.
One of Deb's housemates, Tunde "Tucsi" Ludanye, has studied equine behavior and sensory perception. She said that if self-preservation is the first law of nature, it's also the last word in horse sense. The horse has an inbred fear of being eaten. It is known to be the fastest animal in the world at distances over 50 yards, but within that distance, it is vulnerable to ambush artists like lions and wolves. That first 50 yards is crucial. To gain this ever-important head start, a horse depends on an amazing sensory system - a 360-degree field of vision and ears which swivel a full 180 degrees.
Tucci said it's possible to understand a horse's seemingly irrational reactions as natural wariness. Remember, it's an animal of wide open spaces, not twisty single track. Tucci notes that a horse instinctively fears small, tight, dark places, like a trailer, as place where a horse-eater may be lurking. A tight trail in deep woods may also make a horse nervous, Deb said.
The only way to calm a spooked horse is to convince it that there is nothing to fear. A trained animal takes its cues from its rider or other horses. A startled horse under a startled rider is a dangerous combination. A startled horse under a calm rider is less so.
One of the most volatile elements in the mix is that every animal is different. "My horse Hardin is bomb-proof," she said. "The previous owner used to take him hunting and shoot a gun off his back." Deb and Hardin also used to tag along behind a racer-friend when he trained in the woods. "Hardin loved it. He would just fall in behind the bike and away we'd go. But even with a bomb-proof horse, if you startle it, it's going to shy."
While a horse is a large animal, it is also quite fragile. "There are a number of things that can happen to a horse, just like with any human athlete." A spooked horse, madly dashing over hill and dale, can easily pop a tendon, tear a ligament, break a cannon bone, or twist a fetlock, which is the equine equivalent of spraining our wrist. Any of those injuries entail a long-term recovery and big-time veterinarian costs. A severe injury may oblige the owner to euthanize the animal, which is part cherished friend and part investment. Any rider who has had a horse injured or put down after being spooked by cyclists is sure to hit the warpath against mountain bike access.
But the party most in danger during unexpected confrontations is the person is the person riding a spooked horse.
"Typically horses weigh 1,000 pounds and up," she said. "When you startle a horse, its instinctive reaction is flight, and that's when people get hurt." The most common injuries, Deb said, are broken shoulders and wrists and lungs punctured by broken ribs. But more serious injuries do happen. Deb said she saw one rider break his back after getting thrown. She also knows of riders who were killed after they were thrown into a tree or stone wall. Even a sudden sideways movement in the woods may result in the rider being crushed against a tree or clotheslined by a low-hanging limb.
How to avoid conflict
Approaching a horse and rider suddenly from the rear is the most perilous type of meeting. Popping up in a horse's face will certainly scare the bejeesus out of the animal, but at least the rider can quickly identify the nature of the threat and act accordingly.
A horse is likely to sense a cyclist approaching from the rear before its rider, and will instinctively perceive that cyclist as a threat to its safety. That's why it is vital that you make your presence known to the rider.
"No matter which way you approach, it's critical you alert the rider as soon as possible," Deb said. The best thing to do, she said, is to slow to a crawl or stop and ask the rider for instructions. Don't be bashful and don't wait until you get close. Just sing out, "Rider back. May we pass?"
The rider may tell you to pass, or to wait while he or she moves the horse off the trail. The rider may just need to turn the animal around so it can look you over. With a skittish animal or inexperienced rider, you may have to dismount and move off the trail yourself.
Deb also recommends you outfit your bike with a bell, even a tiny, tin kitty bell under your seat. "That may give the horse and rider the split-second warning they need to buy time for everybody involved."
But the most important thing is to let the equestrian control the flow of events. The horse needs to know the rider is in charge. "Ask the rider for instructions no matter what, she said. "They will appreciate it."
Anticipating incidents is the best way to avoid nasty accidents. Keep your eyes open for horse sign on the trail. A 1,200 pound animal shod with steel shoes leaves tracks on everything short of asphalt. Even then, manure piles should alert you that you're sharing the trail with an animal.
If you suspect there's a horse somewhere ahead of you, consider riding elsewhere. If it's your training day, do ride elsewhere. Otherwise, proceed with caution and make noise as you go.
Despite having a bomb-proof horse familiar with bicyclists, Deb said that she tries to keep Hardin away from mountain bikes whenever possible, more so because she's afraid of how bikers will act than how Hardin will.
"I like trail riding, but it's not relaxing, she said. Given that a horse may spook at the sight of a deer, a few anxious moments per ride in the woods is the norm. Knowing that mountain bikes may be in the area ratchets up the tension level dramatically.
"To be honest, I don't go to areas where I can expect to run into them," she said. "The potential for disaster is just too great where the horse and rider are concerned. I've been there and it's not fun."
That admission begs the question: "Can we get along? Yes, if we show respect and a sense of knowing what horses do and what they need. If we don't do that, then I think we're going to be denied access to a lot of great mountain biking." And who wants that?
More Horse Sense From Equestrian Reader
Margo Ems, Lincoln, NE
I am a horse owner and have been trailriding the Midwest for 15 years. I also serve as equestrian advisor for numerous city and state level trail advisory groups, and non-profit trail organizations. I would like to say a BIG THANK YOU for running the informative article, "Equestrians and cyclists: Can we get along?" by Theo Stein in the September ITN.
I would like to make a couple more suggestions: 1) If a horse is crossing a bridge, cyclists should always wait for the the horse to finish. 2) Cyclists should never approach a horse while it is crossing creeks or other water. 3) When calling to the horserider to alert them of your presence, remember it is best not to holler or yell excitedly, but to speak calmly. If the cyclist is some distance from the horse, a loud but calm voice should be used. There is nothing wrong with a "Hello, it's really a nice day for riding, isn't it?" The more an approaching cyclists talks when passing, the more the horse will realize it is just a human being on a strange looking contraption.
One last thing just to set the record straight. Although owning a horse is an expensive hobby, the majority of horse owners who trailride for pleasure are not wealthy. Many trailriders are silly enough to dump every last, hard-earned dime they have into their hobby so that they can do what they enjoy. For many, trailriding is all they do with their horses. They don't show them and do not own expensive horses of show caliber. But they do come from all walks of life, just a mountain bikers do. If all of us use a little common courtesy, and take into consideration the excellent points you have made in your article, everyone can go home at the end of the day after a safe and very enjoyable ride. Again, thanks for helping others understand a bit of horse psychology and promoting trail etiquette.
I wish every newspaper would republish that article periodically!
the absolute WORST people to run into on horseback are the danged bicyclists! They seem, in general, to have NO clue of how a prey animal reacts, and they are the most arrogant so-and-so's to meet on the trail. There are a few exceptions, but the rule unfortunately is what I have experienced.
In contrast, in my experience, I'll take a motocross rider any day -- your heart is in your throat when you hear them coming, but as SOON as they see you on a horse, they pull over & shut down the motors, and wait until you're well past to start up again. I'll take them over a mountain biker any day.
I de-spooked my horse to bikes and I now have a problem with him taking off after bikes to join them (like a horse trained to racing - he wants to join the "herd"). That can be as much of a problem as having a horse scared of bikes.
I have also given up on the American tobacco trail. When they decided to pave over 1/2 of the trail to give greater access to the biker's it was clear that the time for horse trails was over. I have a great horse that is not spooked by bikers, but I am and I have lost many a trail ride because I won't go where bikes are allowed. They just don't know.
Horsemanship and the partnership, learn it, talk it, admire it, pass it on!
"The Pony" Theodore O'Connor 1995-2008
My horse in a panic ended up backing into the side of his truck as he sped by and leaving a very large butt sized dent. I screamed at him to stop! His response was "What do you expect me to do? Move over and let you go by??" My resonse was "yes, asshole that is the law!" I called his supervisor and explained the dent in the side of his truck, just in case the driver would claim ignorance. I never saw him on that particular route again. Idiot never even thought that a very large rattling truck coming down the center of dirt road spewing dirt and gravel might get me killed all he was thinking of was getting his route done as fast as possible.
This story really gave me chills, as a good friend of mine had something similar happen to her a couple of years ago. A guy in a water truck sped past her, right next to where her horse was and she had nowhere to go. Her mare spun and kicked out, caught her rear shoe in the wheel well and pretty much severed the ligaments.
It was within a mile of the barn, with HORSE signs all over the road to warn drivers to be on the lookout. The guy went back to the barn parking lot and just sat in his truck for a bit and drove away. No one saw or heard from him again.
My friend kept the mare, sent her to surgery, went through hundreds and hundreds of bandage changes and x-rays. The vet says the mare is "good to go" for some light riding, so my friend has been able to get on and ride a couple of times recently but she'll probably never be a full 100%.
And all because people are too freakin' ignorant, careless, and/or stupid to show some consideration.
There are a couple of little towns nearby that decided it would be a great idea to build a paved bike trail connecting them, which will wind through East Fork State Park and (in some places) use the existing horse trails. It's a multi-million dollar project, funded through donations and will supposedly be maintained by the local towns.
I wouldn't have a problem with it, if the local pavement-cyclists showed any evidence of basic trail etiquette. However, most of them are severely lacking in that area. . .and it worries me that the committee in charge of planning the trail just shrugged off the concerns about those sections of horse trail that we will be "sharing."
Because, of course, any incidents involving bikes and horses will more than likely result in restrictions on access for horses. As if we aren't already limited in places to ride.
Please copy and paste this to your signature if you know someone, or have been affected by someone who needs a smack upside the head. Lets raise awareness.
We ride mostly where there are no bicyclists, but there is one regional park that is fairly heavily frequented by them and we don't want to give up on the place because the tough hills are great for conditioning.
I have found that most of the cyclists really try but they just don't know about horses... They think quietly sneaking up on a rider is better than making a lot of noise, so we frequently tell them: Just speak up, or yell out, or ring your bell if you have one.
I believe it is up to us to educate others about our sport - we are outnumbered and often a "spectacle" to city folks who only know horses from movies... Let's try to make a good impression and have them on our side.
(And let's not forget, there is ignorance on all sides: There are riders out there, swigging their beers on the trail, littering and trampling down new growth...)