Open Letter to Mountain Bikers

The recent opinion piece in High Country News sparked a viral amount of dialogue on that magazine’s site and on other platforms that picked up the piece, like Adventure Journal. It begged a follow-up on improving understanding for all who use multi-use trails.

yield-trail-sign-tempeBelieve it or not, bikers and hikers must yield to horse riders on many trails. This rule isn’t some snooty, “we were here first” deal. It’s just common sense. It’s much easier for hikers and bikers to yield to horses than the other way around.

Horses are prey animals. Bikes and the people on them seem to approach like predators, quickly and silently. Even the best-trained horses can spook, bolt, or jump sideways when they encounter bikers or hikers with big packs.
The results can be harmful to all. Think of a moose-vehicle collision. Now, take away the vehicle.

To avoid collisions and flared tempers, take these simple steps:

Download a pdf and share it with your local bike shop.

•    Announce yourself: Once you see horse and rider, let them know you’re approaching as soon as you can. No yelling necessary, just a friendly “Hey, how are you?” will do.
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•    Slow down or stop: Ask the rider if she’d like you to stop and step off or if slowing down and passing is okay.

•    Keep talking: Being friendly and communicative isn’t just nice manners, it lets the horse know you are a person, not a predator.

•    Anticipate around corners: Avoid tearing around blind angles. There could be large, dangerous animals around the bend! If you can’t slow down, make noise to alert possible trail riders.

•    Take the low road: If you’re on a grade and are trying to move past a horse rider, take the downhill side.

trail-clipart-TRAIL6Horse riders are not victims here. Nor are they guilt-free when it comes to trail conflict. Let’s recognize our contributions to the problem:

  • Be a polite advocate. As we noticed in the comments on Adventure Journal, mountain bikers have plenty of stories of rude, entitled horse riders. Don’t be one of them!
  • If it’s been rainy, stay off trails where horses can do serious damage. It can take a long time to renew and repair trails that have been trashed when horses move up and down them in wet conditions.
  • Got a horse who’s spooky around bikes? Practice. Expose your horse to bikes in a more predictable environment. Make it a positive experience.
  • Assume the worst. Don’t put yourself or your horse in a position where things can go sideways. If you see or know of mountain bike presence, set yourself up for a safe encounter. If this means hustling off the trail, so be it.

Have fun sharing the trail!

Posted in Emergencies, Reviews and Links, Safety and tagged , .

One Comment

  1. thank you for sharing this. as a mt biker and a runner w/ dogs on leash (cause i have stockdogs so they tend to view any large animal as a possible round up, i like to avoid conflicts not fix them). and a former horse person, i get the issues. One big comment. if you are not in control of your horse on trails, Train first. Do not use an all day outing in the wilderness w/ no road access as a training time. a couple times i’ve been running on mountainous trails, caught a line of horses who seem oblivious to anything but themselves, asking if i can get by, “no i have no control so i can’t move off the trail” was a common theme. as a horse person myself, my first thought was “why take a large animal into the wilderness if you can’t control them. both horse and rider could get injured and not be able to be rescued. (not like a trailer could just drive up over the mountain). the other is common courtesy to others going uphill (see jeeper’s common rules; uphill has right of way), and if you have a line of many riders, bikers, hikers, give other folks the courtesy of moving out of the way. yesterday, running w/ dogs, i used it to train dogs to move off trail and sit quietly. i got several mt bikers on the trail, so i would move off trail, position dogs. they would wait to see if i was going to keep going, nope waiting happily here. i didn’t keep going and hope we could all fit, or assume the mt biker had better control than i do on a mt bike in steep rocks, i used it as a training oppurtunity. even if the sign says someone has the RoW, assess terrain, and be courtesous. its crowded these days! i was pretty impressed by their skill mt biking over large rocks and making it look easy.

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