Mountain Bikes on Horse Trails? No Problem if You’re Prepared

Introduce horses systematically to bikes, hikers, backpackers, strollers, and ATVs to reduce spooking on the trail.
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mountain bikes on horse trails
In addition traditional obstacles, riders are now sharing the trail with an increasing number of hikers, cyclists, baby buggies, and motorcycles and ATVs, which can be unfamiliar, fast, loud, and terrifying to many horses. | Photo: Michelle Anderson/The Horse
Few things are more enjoyable than riding through the forest, coming around a bend in the path, and having the sky open to a breathtaking mountain vista. But, today, equestrians are sharing the trail with a growing number of outdoor enthusiasts, and a rider might instead come around a bend in the path to encounter a group of day hikers or off-road cyclists. This has led many rider to seek advice on how to prepare for encounters with mountain bikes on horse trails.

In urban equestrian areas, off-leash dogs and baby buggies are often as common as horses. These unfamiliar, fast-moving, and loud objects can frighten horses, causing them to startle, panic, rear, or bolt.

A few strategies can help prepare your horse for these contemporary trail obstacles and increase safety.

Know the Trail

Trail rules vary, but even in designated equestrian areas where horses have the right of way, people don’t always follow trail etiquette. Other trail users might be unfamiliar with local ordinances, and they often have no experience with horses. Before heading out on a ride to explore a new area, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the trail and the park rules

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Written by:

Robin Foster, PhD, CAAB, IAABC-Certified Horse Behavior Consultant, is a research professor at the University of Puget Sound in Seattle, Washington, and an affiliate professor at the University of Washington. She holds a doctorate in animal behavior and has taught courses in animal learning and behavior for more than 20 years. Her research looks at temperament, stress, and burn-out as they relate to the selection, retention, and welfare of therapy horses. She also provides private behavior consultations and training services in the Seattle area.

One Response

  1. For all those folk, like me, who are unable to do desensitisation work owing to isolation or lack of assistants, I have found organic cider vinegar, dosed at an eggcup full in a tasty feed one hour before setting off, is a very effective calmative for at least some reactive horses. It won’t work for all horses, nothing does, but it changed my horse from a risky ride , going from a quiet field straight onto a busy bendy road to a laid back sensible ride.

    Bicycle riders in forest parks should be warned with signs not to race round bends- they make no warning sounds.. Two horse riders from a busy livery/farm yard, on a local forest trail were thrown when their horses bolted as bicycle riders charged round a high bend down a steep narrow track. Silent bike riders approaching behind horses are also a real hazard.

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