Be a Good Steward of Public Land: 10 Tips for Equestrian Trail Riders

If we want to keep our trails and public lands open to horses, we must be responsible riders who care for the land and coexist with other trail users.
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Be a Good Steward of Public Land: 10 Tips for Equestrian Trail Riders
If we want to keep our trails and public lands open to horses, we must be responsible riders who care for the land and coexist with other trail users. | Photo: iStock

If we want to keep our trails and public lands open to horses, we must be responsible riders who care for the land and coexist with other trail users. With that in mind, there are things equestrians can do to reduce our environmental impact on the trails we ride. Here are 10 steps you can take to make a difference.

  1. Carry a manure fork, muck bucket, and garbage container in your trailer. When riding on public lands, abide by the principle of “leave no trace.” Always take home everything you and your horse brought—that includes refuse, manure around your trailer and/or camping area, old hay, and spilled bedding. If possible, throw a bucket of water on urine puddles to help dilute them. Smelly piles of manure and urine attract flies and are unsightly to other users.
  2. Encourage your horse to walk when defecating on the trail. This spreads manure out and helps avoid manure piles. If a group of riders stops for any length of time and a buildup of manure occurs, dismount and kick the manure around to disperse it.
  3. Teach and encourage your horse to ride through puddles. Riding around these areas widens the trail, destroying more vegetation.
  4. Stay on marked trails, and do not cut new trails, switchbacks, or corners. Whenever possible, ride single file to keep from widening and degrading trails. Never go off a trail into sensitive areas such as a wetlands, bogs, or marshy meadows. Going off trail, no matter how slight, potentially destroys wildlife habitat. Sediment from erosion can cause serious water quality problems in streams or other water bodies.
  5. In the parking area, avoid driving your truck and trailer over vegetation or into sensitive areas or widening parking areas in any way.
  6. Cross water bodies single file to avoid widening areas further.
  7. Invasive weeds are huge problems. They cause soil erosion and reduce wildlife habitat. Non-native plant seeds that get transported in can take root and quickly out-compete native plants. In some regions non-native plants such as cheat grass are highly flammable, increasing the risk of wildfire. Inspect your horse’s hooves and coat before leaving home to prevent weed seed transmission. Remove mud and foreign debris from riding boots as well as truck and trailer tires.
  8. Get help at home from your local conservation district on how to manage pastures to reduce weeds and their spread onto other properties.
  9. If possible, avoid tying your horse to trees or vegetations that he can damage. If you must do so, such as during lunch or a rest stop, look for the sturdiest tree possible. Teach your horse to stand quietly; pawing can damage sensitive tree roots.
  10. Observe wildlife from a distance. Don’t stalk or approach wild animals, and never feed them. Feeding wildlife damages their health, changes natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers. Restrain or control dogs, especially around wildlife. Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or, for species that hibernate, winter.

How we as equestrians treat the privilege of trail riding and maintaining existing open spaces determines how and when new areas might open up to equestrian use

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Written by:

Alayne Blickle, a lifelong equestrian and ranch riding competitor, is the creator/director of Horses for Clean Water, an award-winning, internationally acclaimed environmental education program for horse owners. Well-known for her enthusiastic, down-to-earth approach, Blickle is an educator and photojournalist who has worked with horse and livestock owners since 1990 teaching manure composting, pasture management, mud and dust control, water conservation, chemical use reduction, firewise, and wildlife enhancement. She teaches and travels North America and writes for horse publications. Blickle and her husband raise and train their mustangs and quarter horses at their eco-sensitive guest ranch, Sweet Pepper Ranch, in sunny Nampa, Idaho.

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