Bikers, Hikers, and Horses: Can We All Play Together Nicely?

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There’s nothing as frightening as seeing cyclists—often oblivious to their surroundings—barreling down a trail toward me and my horse.

As a horse owner, rider, and trainer for more than 40 years, I’ve spent a lot of time in our beautiful parks and forests here in Western North Carolina. But lately, I’ve been noticing more and more incidents of people failing to be courteous and observe the rules of the trail.

On a beautiful spring day last year, two 70-year-old women were riding their horses in DuPont. As they rounded a bend, two bikers flew toward them. The lead biker had his head down and headphones in his ears. He was followed by a female companion. When the two women on horseback started screaming, the riders looked up and—with expressions of sheer fear—slammed on their brakes just inches from one of the horses. The horse whirled around and threw its elderly rider, who fell and broke her clavicle and shoulder.

The bikers? The male stopped next to the elderly women on the ground, removed his earbuds, and asked, “What in the hell are you horse people doing on our bike trails?”

Most of the local bikers who ride in DuPont are usually observant of the “yield” rules which are posted prominently throughout the forest. In all cases, hikers and bikers yield to horses. DuPont has established a civilian patrol to help educate visitors who aren’t familiar with the rules.

Recently, one patrol member on horseback had a close call. A biker whizzed around a blind curve and suddenly found himself face to face with her very large horse. He slammed on his brakes and wound up under her very tolerant horse. The horse stood perfectly still with the biker and his bike underneath him. Fortunately, her horse remained still while he extricated himself. After the color returned to his face, he apologized and said he didn’t know horses were allowed on the bikers’ trails.

Another patrol encountered a biker going entirely too fast for safety. When the patrol member suggested that he slow down for safety’s sake, the biker flipped him off.

If an approaching biker announces his approach most horseback riders will gladly tell bikers, “Let me find a place to move to the side and let you pass.” Horses are a fright-flight prey animal, and when frightened, will do many things to avoid being attacked. If bikers and hikers would alert equestrians by voice when approaching, horses will know you are not a mountain lion about to pounce on them, and they will remain relaxed.

With limited space available to multiple user groups on our public lands, let’s all try to be considerate of everyone we encounter. We can do this, and we must do this before someone gets killed.

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