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Horses, Bikes, and Trails

What to do when bikes and horses 

encounter each other on trail  

By Kathy Redden, CCCMB liaison with the Atascadero Horsemen’s Club

Many of the most popular trails in our area are multi-use. For everyone to enjoy our local treasure of outstanding trails, hikers, bikers, and equestrians must respect and understand each other. See below for a list of suggestions about what to do when mountain bike riders encounter horses on our shared trails.

But first of all, I want to thank CCCMB for all their trail efforts for so many years and for making the organization inclusive for all trail users. I’m very proud to tell people that I participate in some of the many trail efforts that CCCMB sponsors.  I also believe that because of the trail work events, we generally enjoy a greater spirit of cooperation and understanding between mountain bike riders and equestrians in SLO County than in other counties. 

And now for some suggestions:

  • In general, many horses are fine with bikes as long as the bikes are going slow and the horses have not been startled.  A startled horse can be a stupid horse, which can be dangerous for the equestrian, the bike rider, and the horse.
  • When approaching horses head on, slow down and ask the equestrian whether they prefer you to stop or ride by slowly.  Speak naturally so the horse recognizes that you are a human.
  • When approaching horses from behind, call out in advance so that the equestrian knows that you are there.  It can be disconcerting for both rider and horse to find a bike rider two inches off our "bumper."  Once the horse and rider know you are there, they may turn to face you so that the horse can see what's coming and be less startled.
  • On singletrack trails, it's best for either party to pull off where everyone feels safest.  I know that trail rules state that bike riders and hikers defer to horses.  My feeling is that both parties should do whatever is easiest and safest for everyone.  Many times I may pull off the trail if I'm in a good spot (especially when a bike rider is pedaling uphill) or I may expect the bike rider to pull off if they have a wide spot available. 
The bottom line is that we all need to use common sense.  Most horses don't like something whizzing past them, and we all want to have a safe and enjoyable ride so being respectful usually works!

Equestriansthe way you ride
influences the sustainability of the trail  
  • To cause the least impact by horse hooves, encourage your horse to stay on the inside of a single track trail, especially when the outside edge is loose and crumbly.  
  • To get a sense of the impact of a group of horses, consider the fact that in Yellowstone National Park, groups with less than six riders may travel cross country but any larger group must stay on trail.  That's a good rule of thumb for all of us.  
  • And stay off single tracks when wet!

Mountain bikers, the way you ride
influences the sustainability of the trail 

  • To cause the least impact by bike tires, "ride it, don't slide it," as they say in Downieville.  
  • Keep it single.
  • Also, don't ride too soon after heavy rains.


More perspective: "Whoa! – Meeting Horses on the Trail"

by Andrea Barber, Sand Meadow Farm, MendonNY (December 2009)