Access to public lands is a privilege that we enjoy with our horses. More land continually is being closed to equestrian use due to significant soil erosion and ecosystem degradation from the impact by horses. In order to hold on to the trails that remain for equestrian access, each rider plays an important part in improving public perception.
It is our responsibility to be as considerate of the land as possible, assuming the role as a steward of forest, prairies, mountains and wilderness on which we ride. Keep in mind that these lands are often designated for multi-use purposes that include hikers, bikers and off-road vehicles as well as equestrians. This means that courtesy extended when encountering all other users is equally important for keeping trails open to horses.
Some basic general rules for good stewardship and use of public lands:
- Ride only on designated trails and avoid shortcuts; this protects against off-trail erosion.
- Don’t enter trails that are marked “off limits.” Closed access to certain areas is meant to protect vegetation, habitat, wildlife, and also for safety precautions.
- Bring a plastic bag to collect your trash; pick up stray litter you find along the way.
- Consider how your equestrian activities affect the ecosystem through which you ride, both over land and through water.
- Be circumspect about riding on wet or muddy trails as horse hooves add to terrain damage.
- Observe safe riding habits by using safe and operational tack and by wearing an ASTM-approved helmet and proper riding boots.
- Don’t tie your horse to trees or allow your horse to eat native grasses in areas where this is forbidden.
- Give wildlife a wide berth.
- Leave all gates in the position you find them.
- Ride a horse that suits your skill level so you have complete control.
- Ride at safe speeds that enables ample vision up and down the trail, and slow down when encountering others or obstacles. Communicate your intentions verbally to other users.
- When in a group, establish an order and accommodate the speed of the least-skilled rider. Spread out sufficiently so trail access to other users isn’t obstructed.
- Use certified weed-free hay when possible, not just when it is required.
- Adopt the philosophy of “Leave No Trace.” Clean up manure and hay refuse before leaving parking, camping and use areas.
Roadways are additional public assets that are sometimes used by riders. When riding along roadways, adhere to appropriate rules. Usually, this means the same rules as pedestrians:Ride in the direction that faces oncoming traffic; obey all signs and signals; don’t ride on highways, freeways or access ramps. Horses have the right-of-way to vehicles, but that doesn’t mean the drivers know to yield, so ride defensively.
By following these guidelines, you can do your share to improve public perception of equestrians while also maintaining the integrity of the beauty in which you travel on horseback.