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Trail Tiffs and Road Rage with Horses

By Cindy Hale

Monday, January 4, 2010

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I’m fortunate to reside in a rather isolated community where bridle paths have supplanted sidewalks and hitching posts are prominent at local restaurants and drug stores. Yet I’m not immune to the urban sprawl that’s encroaching on the simple pleasure of horseback riding.

The non-horse loving civilians have become exceedingly defensive about what they deem to be their personal few inches of space. They want our four-legged beasts the heck off “their” trails and “their” roadways. Nowhere is this attitude more prevalent than here in Southern California, where far too many people are being crammed into far too little open space.

The most emotionally charged issue centers around multi-use trails. These are the clearly marked pathways that weave their way through tapestries of pristine meadows, oak glens and undisturbed waterways. These rare refuges are usually located on wildlife preserves and state or county parks. In an effort to encourage suburbanites and city dwellers to embrace nature while it’s still available, the multi-use trails welcome walkers, hikers, cross country runners, mountain bikers… and horses. And we’re all supposed to share these trails. At the same time. Multi-use trails dictate that horseback riders take priority. Walkers, hikers and runners don’t seem to have a problem allowing equestrians to amble past. But there’s a great deal of acrimony brewing among some mountain bikers.

Recently I visited an online site for serious cyclists. I was truly amazed at the venomous letters to the online editor regarding horseback riders. The biggest complaint was horse poop. From what I read, when a group of bikers are powering up a hill or zipping around a bend they simply hate to come upon manure. Someone’s spokes get glommed up with green goo and then it’s flecked back into another cyclist’s face. Navigating around the manure is (apparently) too much trouble. Their proposal is that horseback riders on multi-use trails should be required to pack out their horses’ poop. One fearless equestrian jumped into the online fray (she must’ve been on a multi-use Internet search trail) and explained why it’s not feasible to carry a camping shovel and a plastic Hefty bag tethered to a saddle. Plus, she offered, a dismounted rider is an unsafe rider: What if while attempting to scoop the poop the horse spooks and bolts free?

Aha! That scenario led to yet another proposal: If horses are so prone to spooking, then they should be banned outright from multi-use trails. After all, this one male writer proclaimed, aggressive dogs are not allowed on public trails because they might injure someone. So horses, which can spook—or kick a cyclist who rides up their tail end—should be banned as well. And if not, then the rider must be held legally liable for any and all damages and injuries the horse causes under any circumstances.

Now, I don’t want to stereotype all mountain bikers and off road cyclists. My own husband is obsessive about his bike riding. But he would never endanger himself or an equestrian by being selfish about his own two-wheeled pursuits. And most of the time the mountain bikers I encounter on the trails are courteous. They either stop and give way or call out if they realize I don’t see them coming.

Yet I’ve also had mountain bikers utterly refuse to yield the right of way to me and my horse. On several occasions they’ve blatantly ridden right up alongside Wally or Joey’s butt, so close that sorrel tail hairs brush the rims of their Oakley sunglasses. It’s as if they’re daring my horse to waylay them. Since cursing at them doesn’t seem to help matters, I’ve decided to avoid multi-use trails on weekends, since that’s when they’re most crowded with mountain bikers. Yet isn’t that what they want, for horseback riders to back down and just stay home in the arena? Have I capitulated? But how do I—and so many other horseback riders—stand firm when so much of the non-horse owning world seems against us?

As if dealing with rabid cyclists isn’t enough, recently there was a case of road rage involving horseback riders. Road rage incidents happen so often in Southern California that it’s hardly news unless someone is actually shot. And yes, that happens. There are a lot of hot tempered people driving around with loaded guns in their cars, but I suppose that’s a topic for a different blog on a different website.

At any rate, the other night on the outskirts of Los Angeles, a couple of male riders had paused alongside a busy road, apparently waiting to cross the lanes once they’d cleared. Five males inside an SUV became incensed at having to wait for horses, and they began arguing with the men on horseback. Next, the guys in the SUV actually got out and started fighting the mounted men! As they were yanked off their horses and beaten, one of the riders sustained a broken arm. A witness happened to see a female rider a short distance away (by the clip I saw, she was riding a lovely dappled gray that looked like an Andalusian) and summoned her to help her fellow equestrians. She rode to their aid in the dark, but that only raised the level of violence. The offenders hopped back into their SUV and hit—that’s right, they purposely drove into—the big, beautiful gray horse! The woman was thrown from the impact, injuring her back and neck, and her horse sustained a huge, deep gash on his chest.

The most infuriating part? The SUV sped off and the cops are still looking for the hit and run culprits. I can only hope and pray that one of the victims or the Good Samaritan lady driver got the license plate number.

But is this what it’s coming to? Are horseback riders eventually going to be held hostage by non-horse loving people who are so full of pent-up hostility at their fate, their place in the universe or their incredible self-serving egos that they inflict emotional misery and felonious injury upon us? That thought makes me cringe. At least you’re forewarned. Coming to an area near you, as housing developments and paved pastures expand: Trail tiffs and road rage.

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CINDY HALE    HORSE CHANNEL, CA

1/8/2010 10:06:14 AM

YOUR COMMENTS ARE INTERESTING AND I THANK YOU FOR POSTING THEM. THE STATE OF THE TRAIL SYSTEMS FOR HORSEBACK RIDERS SHOULDN'T SURPRISE ME, I GUESS. I'VE LIVED OUT HERE FOR ABOUT 25 YEARS AND IT USED TO BE THAT MY SISTER AND I COULD RIDE FOR HOURS THROUGH THE HILLS. THERE WAS ONCE A SEASONAL LAKE WHERE THE FREEWAY NOW CUTS THROUGH THE HILLS. AND WE USED TO JUMP OUR HORSES OVER A SERIES OF FALLEN COTTONWOOD TREES. NOW A HOUSING TRACT STANDS THERE. OH. AND WE ALSO PLAYED AN UPDATED VERSION OF "GI JANE/US ARMED FORCES ON HORSEBACK VS. AN UNDEFINED ENEMY" IN THE VAST, UNDEVELOPED BACK COUNTRY. THAT'S WHERE A STRIP MALL NOW STANDS.

APPARENTLY THIS SCENARIO IS HAPPENING IN AREAS ALL AROUND THE COUNTRY AND AS A FELLOW HORSE LOVER I FIND IT EXTREMELY SAD.

Dee    Greenville, SC

1/6/2010 2:50:28 PM

I totally agree with Amber. I don't ride on multi-use trails but I do hike them. I have never had a bad encounter with horses but I can't count the number of times that I have almost been run over by mountain bikers or had to totally abandon the trail so they could go flying past me. I think that mountain bikers should not be allowed on trails with hikers, horses or anyone sane!

julie    New Cambria, MO

1/6/2010 1:29:08 PM

Now I remember why I moved from Ca !! I remember once when I was 17 ( a long , long time ago) we were crossing a bridge to get to a trail head. The driver of a truck couldn't wait anymore and came up on the butt of my horse and blew his horn. Lucky for me my horse was very used to cars and didn't bolt but went back, much to the horror of the driver and caused quite a bit of damage. He had to pay for it because with so many witnesses he was in the wrong. I don't use multi use trails because of how they are becoming unsafe and my horses are too important to me to risk coming upon the one nut job who could cause them or me harm.

horsewoman    somwhere, OH

1/6/2010 9:52:52 AM

some people are just that way

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