Trail Safety and Etiquette
As I was on trail with my trusty steed yesterday, a mountain biker came flying down the hill squeezing between the small group of hikers and the two friends I was horseback riding with. It was a peaceful passing despite the fact that our lead rider was asking the biker to wait until we passed the family that was hiking. The guy on the bike didn’t hear her, thought she was talking to the hikers or simply chose to ignore her. Either way, it made me revisit the several encounters I’ve had with bikers, hikers, runners, uncontrolled dogs and other equestrians. I think a lot of people that share and utilize the trails for play don’t realize that there is an actual etiquette for trail use.
Horses are large grazing animals that can weigh between 800 and 2,000 pounds. They are also prey animals. Predators would be dogs, cats, snakes, etc., anything that preys on other animals for survival. Humans are considered to be both prey and predator. In a horse's mind they instinctually think everything is a predator: mountain bikes, runners, hikers, walking sticks, baby carriers, barking dogs, small children running at them, groups of people (that looks like a pack to horses), things that make fast sudden movements, and even people who stand by a tree trying to get out of the way will look suspicious. So nature equipped them with a few things to help them survive. One of them being their eyes. Theirs are the largest of any land animal and are strategically positioned on the sides of their head. This gives them almost 350 degrees of monocular vision; but only about 65 degrees of that is binocular (use of both eyes at the same time for vision). Basically, what they see on their right side isn’t the same as what’s on the left. They also have a couple blind spots, one being directly behind them and above them. If they want to see what’s at their feet, they have to arch their neck and tip their nose down and inward. Speaking of their feet, there are those huge, hard hooves at the bottom of very powerful legs that are used to stomp, kick, rear, strike, pound and run. And because they are herd animals, if one senses danger the entire herd will react. Hence the term, “herd mentality.” Why are these little tidbits important to you when you probably won't own a horse? Safety. When you end up on a trail with horses, move slowly and preferably stop. Use your voice so they recognize you as non-threatening. And no sudden movements. This is for the benefit of all involved.
Who Yields To Whom On Trail?
To “yield” is to “give way”. Bikes yield to both pedestrians (hikers, runners, dog walkers), and horse riders. Pedestrians yield to horses. The reason for this should be obvious…horses are animals and have a mind of their own. If an animal feels cornered or fearful, his fight or flight response takes over. Regardless of how experienced the rider may be, if his 1,200lb., scared horse responds with the fight instinct, suddenly everyone is now looking at a very large predator that can hurt or kill the rider, biker and hikers. And when hiking with your dog, remember horses can’t see them if they run under or around their feet. Hopefully this makes the yielding fairly easy to remember.
Use common sense and courtesy when sharing the trails. Even a simple "hello" is helpful to let others know of your presence. If you’re hiking up a hill and see or hear a mountain biker pedaling up behind you, be considerate and let him/her pass. I often do that when horseback riding. If I’m about to ride my horse up an incline and there’s a biker that is about to ride up the same hill, I’ll waive him by so he doesn’t have to stop. It’s really hard to start pedaling your bike midway up a mountain if you’ve had to come to a complete stop. Again, it’s about consideration for others. The same goes for other equestrians. If you encounter another horse rider, it's not a good idea to go running off while passing each other. The herd mentality kicks in. When one horse sees or hears another running, they automatically want to go with the other horse(s). It's pretty simple, everyone be cool out there.
I hope this lends some understanding as to why the etiquette is in place. It’s a safety thing.