provided by Trail Riders of Today
(First appeared in the July issue of The Equiery)
Maryland has been blessed with a wide array of beautiful trails throughout the state. From the Atlantic Ocean where we may ride on the beach, to flat farmlands, to mountain trails in the western portion of the state. There are federal, state and county parks which all have multi-use trail systems. Horseback riders share these trails with hikers, bikers, bird watchers, families with strollers, dog walkers, etc. Here are a few simple tips to help keep our multi-use trails open and safe for horses.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
We all need to be aware of our surroundings and work towards desensitizing our horses to the various situations they may encounter. Safety is the main concern for everyone, not just the trail rider. While on a ride, if your horse is showing fear, ask the other trail user to give your horse some space and a moment to overcome his fear. Remember, a calm rider makes for a calmer horse, though that can be a challenge for some of us!
Right of Way
When it comes to passing on the trail, the horse typically has the right of way. The other trail users should step aside and allow the horse and rider to pass. This does not always mean the rider should insist on being first. The rider must judge the situation. Sometimes it is better to yield to the other trail user. For instance, if there is someone on a bike coming up from behind, the bike is probably going faster than the horse and rider, the rider should step aside and allow the biker to pass.
Clean Up After Your Horse
We, as trail users, need to improve our public image in order to retain the right to ride on public lands. Manure, hay and shavings do not belong in parking lots! If there is not somewhere provided to dispose of these, put them in your trailer and take back to your barn. Park officials have been contacting horse groups about this issue and riders may be denied parking if this sort of behavior continues.
Know When to Stay Off the Trails
When we have had heavy amounts of rain as we had this spring, it affects the quality and stability of the trails. Although the sun may come out for a day or two after the rain subsides, a general rule of thumb is to wait 24 hours for every inch of rain that has fallen. Riding through areas with wet soil can create muddy bogs, causing the land to retain the water and mud long after rainfall. In order to preserve the trails, make sure to give them ample time to dry and firm up. Also, check with park officials before heading out on the trail in case any paths have been closed due to storm debris or excessive water.
Stay on the Path
Riding on public paths cleared specifically for trail riding is a privilege. As such, it is expected that all trail riders remain on the paths indicated for their use and avoid trail blazing and making new paths. Rider-created paths are often poorly routed and not maintained, resulting in degradation of the vegetation and soil supporting it. Unfortunately, trampling by a horse is more destructive than hikers on foot, mountain bikes and even off-road motorcycles.
Know the Boundaries
Trail riders should also be aware of the boundaries of the public lands on which they are riding. Many public parks with trail access back up to private farmland. Respect the farmers and their crops by avoiding the temptation to ride through a field or along the edges of it. Unless you have permission from the surrounding land owners themselves, stay on the park side of the property line.
Volunteer to Clear Trails
The majority of the trails are cleared and maintained by users and volunteers, not park staff. Do your share and remember that other trail users are shorter than a horse and rider. Trimming upper branches is our job as riders. Trail Riders of Today has a program where you can report your trail maintenance hours, even if it is only 15 minutes. These hours are then reported to DNR. So get out there and carry clippers and trim as you go!
Smile and Enjoy the Ride
The most important thing of all when riding on public land is to enjoy the beautiful trails we are so very lucky to have here in Maryland. Don’t forget to give everyone you meet a smile, you are an ambassador for every horseback rider on the trails!