Two Land Trust nature preserves – Wade Mountain and Chapman Mountain – offer mixed-use trails where horseback riding is permitted. Horses unfortunately are not provided but you can bring your own to ride the trails. Since many trail users may be unfamiliar with sharing trails with our equine friends, we talked with an expert to get some tips on how to best enjoy the outdoors together.
Guest Post by Kathi Paul, Happy Trails Therapeutic Riding Center – happytrailstrc.org
You may have seen me there. I typically arrive in a long, white trailer which carries my equipment (boots, saddle, bridle, saddlebags) all the trappings (or tack) that helps my human partner (HP) enjoy the outdoors with my assistance.
Once I’m tacked up, HP climbs aboard, and we start exploring. I provide the leg work; HP checks the map so we don’t get lost and slips me cookies when I do a good job. It’s not so easy to balance a human on my back as I travel up and down the hills and through the trees. Fortunately, HP stops a lot to photograph the surroundings – the remains of an old rock wall, a wild orchid, a snake sunning on a warm rock, a flock of turkeys, or a deer bouncing through the trees.
Me? I enjoy getting off the farm in New Market, where I work as a therapy horse, helping folks with disabilities. I like the shady peace of the woods. And climbing the hills helps me maintain my health, improve my stamina and lung capacity. Just as exercise helps hikers and bikers train in their chosen sport, it helps me too.
If you should meet me sometime on the trail, don’t panic! I take up a lot of room (the average horse weighs about 1,000 pounds), but if we use our heads, we can all get along.
If we are facing each other, please stop for a minute and stand at the downhill side of the trail. Say “howdy” to my HP so I recognize you as a human and not a Sasquatch (especially if you have a backpack!) If you have a dog, please keep him quiet and close by your side. Horses are prey animals, and we are naturally suspicious of meat-eating predators like dogs.
Pull out your camera. We don’t mind photographs, but please be sure to get our best sides! And let the horses pass you. It won’t take us long. Our human partners will let you know if they have suggestions about how we can all stay safe.
If you are riding or hiking and begin to overtake a group of mounted riders, remember that horses don’t come equipped with rear-view mirrors. A horse usually sees you or hears you before the human rider, since we have eyes on the sides of our heads, and we can see almost all the way around our bodies. Please slow down and gently call out “Coming up on your left” or something similar. If I get startled, I might bolt, buck, or kick, endangering my rider, other horses and riders, and even you. Before you pass, be sure my HP knows you are coming. And you can be sure I am trying to tell him/her too!
If we meet on the trails, I will try to maintain my composure so that we can all be safe. But my equine friends wanted me to pass along these important facts about horses:
- We are prey animals, naturally wired to RUN FAST when something frightens us.
- We naturally fear predators – like humans and dogs and mountain lions and bears – but we are trained to trust our human partners.
- We are claustrophobic, so we dislike being crowded into small spaces.
- Our hearing and vision are good. We have the largest eye of any land mammal. We notice lots of things in the woods! But our brains only work as well as a four-year-old human, so sometimes we shy or suddenly run from things that might not really be scary (like plastic shopping bags).
- Please help us all stay safe on the trails. Greet us calmly and use a kind voice so we know you’re friendly. If you’re on a bike, please slow down and pull off the trail. Your speed and hunched posture can trigger our “fight or flight” instinct.
Thanks! And may the Horse be with you!