Horse’s Shoes

To many in the mountain cycling community, horses are not well understood. Why do these animals require respect and deference when encountered on the trails?

Horses are prey animals and have been bred only recently into large animals. In prehistoric times they were much smaller. Horses may still think they are small. Even though to us they are truly powerful and potentially dangerous animals, horses don’t see themselves this way. Therefore it is erroneous to assume that a horse has confidence and a sense of security just because it is big and powerful. Small, seemingly innocuous things will spook them. When a rider is perched on the back of a scared horse, it can be a precarious situation.

Horses are farsighted, so things up close are blurry. They cannot see directly in front or behind themselves. When a bicyclist comes around a blind corner and suddenly appears within 50 ft of the horse, the horse cannot readily identify what is heading towards it. Since the horse is a prey animal it is normal behavior for it to flinch and desire to flee. Obviously this is not good for any rider on its back.

Equestrians prefer voice alerts over bells and a greeting such as “Hi! Great weather today!” is appropriate coming from in front or behind. Horses generally recognize the human voice as safe and a spoken salutation helps offset the potentially threatening appearance of a bike.

Horses are fidgety and susceptible to other horses’ behavior. If a horse is halted on a narrow trail it may not necessarily stand still, and it may lose its footing causing it to attempt to save itself from falling down a slope. This in turn will agitate other nearby horses that interpret the situation as dangerous. Some horses may try to turn around. This can be treacherous for the horseback riders.

Remember that the human voice helps the horse identify the cyclist as a friendly human and not a potential threat or predator. On tight single track it is best to get off your bike and let horseback riders pass. Get off on the uphill side so that the horse can’t slip down on you or kick you. Aren’t you glad you are not in the horse’s shoes?