By ASGRA member Ken Withers
Not all of us in ASGRA are accomplished rodeo athletes, believe it or not. While we all love the sport and may even find ourselves in the arena occasionally, I would venture to say that most of us are more comfortable participating in the trail rides or stomping around the horse farm. We're certainly more comfortable afterwards. But trail riding is not a no-brainer. It is a skill, different from the skills needed in the arena. Any of us who ride horseback on public multi-user trails, where we can encounter cyclists, backpackers, roller-bladers, joggers, and even whiteface-painted mimes, knows how valuable multi-user trail riding skills can be.
There are good reasons to ride on multi-user trails. Public equestrian-only trails are few and far between, and using private trails can become an expensive (or unlawful) habit. Public multi-user trails, on the other hand, are all around us. They are usually longer, more scenic, and offer a wider variety of outdoor experiences. As more railroad, canal, utility and riparian rights-of-way come into the public domain, more multi-user trails are being constructed. It's not a practical use of limited public resources to build exclusive bridal paths or even double-wide trails with separate lanes for separate uses. And for many of us, the simple fact that the trail is multi-user is a plus in and of itself--that may be the very reason we're on a pubic trail.
But everyone has a horror story, or a friend of a friend with a horror story, of an unfortunate confrontation with a mountain biker or backpacker resulting in multiple injuries, permanently spooked horses, and large insurance settlements.
Professional park managers can cite statistics showing that such incidents are rare, and nearly all that do occur could have been avoided if the participants, human and equine, had some better training. Dr. Roger L. Moore, Associate Professor of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at North Carolina State and a leading expert in trail management, doesn't believe that there are fundamental trail use conflicts at all, and no reason to ban or segregate any reasonable trail use. Based on his exhaustive studies, Dr. Moore believes that trail conflicts should be viewed as user behaviors that interfere with other users' reasonable goals and expectations.
Of course, trail user conflict management is a two-way proposition, even (or especially) if the trail is single track. Equestrians, cyclists, backpackers and other users all have rights and responsibilities, and the chief responsibility is to have the skills and common sense to avoid conflicts whenever possible. So here are some trail riding tips for equestrians, followed by some reasonable expectations we should have of cyclists and backpackers.
A few years ago Clemson University sponsored a national symposium of horse trails. One of the speakers, Michael Kelley of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, summed up his presentation by saying, "Both equestrians and cyclists can - learn to withstand just about anything-even each other, despite often heard protestations to the contrary... We share the wonder at what we are able to experience on our chosen steeds. We love the beauty of the outdoors and the joy of life we breathe as we travel through wild lands. We revel in sports which require exquisite balance and self-control, and which inherently involve a certain amount of risk and exposure to injury should we loose our balance or control of what's under the saddle. We get saddle sores and sore backs. The more time we devote to our respective sports, the more likely we are to put every spare dollar into it. We grow attached to our mounts, give them names, groom and maintain them. We relish the wind whistling in our ears from a swift run along an open trail... So take a cyclist to lunch."
For more information:
Roger L. Moore, "Conflicts on Multiple-Use Trails: Synthesis of the Literature and State of the Practice,"
Ken Withers is a "Silver Spur" member of Atlantic States Gay Rodeo Association, a life member of the League of American Bicyclists, and was recipient of the East Coast Greenway Association's first Lifetime Achievement Award for his trail advocacy efforts.
Cowboy_biker - Photo courtesy International Mountain Bicycling Association http://www.imba.com