Trail etiquette -- horses vs bikers vs hikers

Discussion in 'Camping, Hiking, Cooking' started by Trapper, Jun 5, 2014.

  1. Trapper

    Trapper Author, Writer, Photographer

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    The snow is gone on many trails and people are getting out into the hills. Many people are unaware of just who has the right of way on a trail, hikers/backpackers, dogs, horses/mules, ATVs/motorcycles/mountain bikes.

    1. Dogs must either be on a leash or under voice command. If a hiker's dog ignores the owner and starts snarling, barking, or biting at a horse or mule, the dog can end up dead or injured. Trying to track down a pack mule being chased by a crazed dog is very frustrating. If a rider is thrown and injured due to your dog, I'm sure the lawyers and the insurance companies will sort it out, but it's not going to be a good thing for anyone.

    2. Hikers. In a meeting of hikers +/- dogs vs horses +/- packstock, the riders have the right of way. Hikers should step off trail, downhill if possible, get their dogs next to them and quiet. They should talk to the riders to let the stock know they aren't a threat and stay in the open. Stepping out from behind a tree or rock quickly next to the horse or mule isn't funny or safe.

    If getting off trail downhill isn't possible, crouch or sit uphill in the open.

    If a hiker meets a rider who has dismounted on the trail, talking to announce his presence as he approaches is advised. Getting his dogs under control is mandatory. Walking up quietly behind the string and slapping the last mule or horse in the string on the ass is a very bad idea.

    2. Mountain bikes, ATVs, and dirt bikes. I've only run into mountain bikes and dirt bikes on trails near my house. Most of the young kids were great. They'd see us coming and stop, turn off their bikes, and wait for us to pass. I've never run into any of these in The Bob or Beartooths because they are all banned there. The rule is wheels yield to everyone.

    3. String vs string. I always worked on "the most mules in the string has the right of way" but in certain situations it has made sense to yield to a shorter string if you have a good shot at getting off the trail and the shorter string doesn't. I don't remember anything about uphill or downhill meetings.

    Trapper
     
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  2. triploidjunkie

    triploidjunkie Active Member

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    It was the damned llamas that would freak our strings out. Didn't quite know what to make of those odd creatures.
     
  3. Trapper

    Trapper Author, Writer, Photographer

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    Very true. I forgot about the llamas as I've only encountered them a couple of times. One time my gelding started acting really strange and finally his ears shot back and he really tensed up. I thought he was probably smelling a mountain lion or grizzly. We finally caught up with a guy who was leading a string of about 6 llamas. That got very tense.

    That was about 4 years ago and I haven't seen any llamas since.
     
  4. Jim Ficklin

    Jim Ficklin Genuine Montana Fossil

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    I had a mare years ago that was the most docile riding/pack horse I ever knew. Until there was a moose in the vicinity . . . then, it was rodeo time. I always figured that at some point in her life she had met an amorous bull with lustful intentions.
     
  5. Patrick Gould

    Patrick Gould Active Member

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    Thanks Trapper! I'll add some from a central washington mountain biker's point of view. Central WA is rodeo country. Riding horses is big part of the culture. If you ride a mountian bike or motorcycle you're going to encounter horses sooner or later.

    1. Yield! It doesn't matter if it's a hiker, motorcyclist or equestrian. Get to the side of the trail and lean your bike away from the other trial user. Be especially careful when going downhill.
    2. Be friendly, we're all out having a good time. Say hello and let the other user know if there are other bikers coming up behind you.
    3. When you see horses ahead let the riders know you're there as soon as possible. Inevitably some of the horses you meet will be skittish, so make sure you don't catch them unaware.
     
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  6. zen leecher aka bill w

    zen leecher aka bill w born to work, forced to fish

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    I did 20 years of backpack deer hunting and we either walked the whole way or used a motorcycle to get us to the wilderness boundry and then footed it back in from there. Either on foot or on bike I always figured I didn't want to get tangled up with a "testy" horse and we moved off trail for them.

    I had a chance once to see what a "testy" horse would do. It was a stomped rifle, broken finger and somehow even a ripped boot sole. At that moment I considered horse steaks for that nights main course. Horse wasn't trained all that well and when a deer slipped from the horse's back to the horse's belly there wasn't much we could do to stop the antics.
     
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  7. bennysbuddy

    bennysbuddy the sultan of swing

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    Good information,not being a horseman I wondered what the best procedure was when meeting a pack string. With that note when I'm packing out a elk on my back it's not because I like the exercise it's because I don't have a horse. I'd be more than willing to pay for a bit of help packing out the load.
     
  8. Trapper

    Trapper Author, Writer, Photographer

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    Horses are interesting critters, but what many people don't understand is an 1100 lb horse has a brain about the size of a lemon. When you compare brain size vs body mass next to say the average dog, it's no comparison. Horses act mostly out of instinct and each one of them seems to have some sort of quirk. It's pretty amazing how we humans are able to get a horse to let us throw a saddle and ourselves on them. Why they even tolerate another dead critter on their back goes beyond amazing. What would happen if you tied a dead cat onto your dog's back and then that dead cat came loose and rolled around the dog's belly?

    Horses are herd animals and canines and other predators have historically been a huge threat. Most horses I've ridden stay on guard against phantom saber toothed tigers or wolf packs. They don't always distinguish between predators and moose, or labradors, or backpackers, or a gutted buck some hunter tied on their back an hour ago.

    I've had horses stare down a bear on the trail and then jump six feet off the trail when a WalMart bag lifts off in front of them in the wind.

    I've never been thrown from a horse, but I've made plenty of unscheduled dismounts . . . ;) (Actually the Appy in my avatar damn near killed me once when he got spooked by wolves and took off at a full gallop through thick timber.)
     
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  9. Alex MacDonald

    Alex MacDonald that's His Lordship, to you.....

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    Yeah, horsies.... No thanks; been tossed up there with the airliners enough times! It's not the fall mind you, but the sudden stop. I'll take the carbon-fiber two wheel goat, or the Japanese 4-wheeled pack animal anytime.
     
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  10. Trapper

    Trapper Author, Writer, Photographer

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    I've gotten seriously banged up going off motorcycles and I've also been thrown off those Japanese quarter horses!

    In my life now, I spend a lot of time (~ 14 weeks/year) in wilderness areas -- The Bob Marshall and the Beartooths. By law even mountain bikes are banned. So, it's either mount up, which I enjoy very, very, much, or walk, which I really don't enjoy at all any more.

    Also, packing my kitchen and camp deep (23 miles) into a wilderness doesn't offer many options. And, packing dead elk out of steep terrain with mules is a lot more fun than listening to my buddies whine . . .

    [​IMG]
     
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  11. Alex MacDonald

    Alex MacDonald that's His Lordship, to you.....

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    One of my buddies was in a Spokanistan court room a few years ago for a right of way hearing (he works for DOT), and the case prior to his, was about a guy who shot a horse during elk season. The judge asks the guy to present his side of the story, and the guy waxes poetic on how he was certain the horse looked soooo like an elk, yadayada. Finally the judge leans over the bench and says "Just who do you think was riding the elk????".
     
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  12. Alex MacDonald

    Alex MacDonald that's His Lordship, to you.....

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    Trapper, I think your comment about their brains being about the size of lemons is a bit generous... Especially the BDA variety!!

    I distinctly recall looking down while loitering around in the landing pattern of the San Franicisco airport, and seeing what I thought was the high school...Oh, and that must be the aquatic center down there, next to that office building. Gonna leave a mark when I land....:eek:
     
  13. Dan Nelson

    Dan Nelson Hiker, Fisher, Writer, Bum

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    Great post.

    As an author of hiking guidebooks and a frequent clinic presenter, I have repeated these same sentiments countless times to thousands of hikers. As the author of a hiking with dogs book (I created the "Best Hikes with Dogs" series for Mountaineers Books) I FULLY agree with the first sentence of Bullet #1, and I would add:

    • Hikers with dogs should yield to ALL other trail users at all times. Horses can be finicky around strange dogs, but so can many people. I have had otherwise reasonable hikers cringe in terror when they saw my yellow lab on the trail in front of them: Never mind that she was on leash, that she was wagging her tail, and that she had a big sloppy grin on her face. All they saw were big white teeth. Some people just plain fear dogs and it serves no purpose to aggravate that fear—indeed, it can create unforeseen problems (too often, aggravated hikers complain to USFS about "dogs" and, if enough complaints come in, trails get closed to dogs). So, when hiking with a dog, step off the trail with the dog at your side and let other hikers, bikers, horse riders and trail runners pass you by.
      • As a side note, when hikers encounter hikers, courtesy says the UPHILL hiker has the right-of-way. The reason being that it is easier for downhill hikers to 1) see approaching traffic and therefore they have time to get out of the way and 2) it's easier for downhill hikers to break stride and then reestablish a comfortable stride. Uphill hikers moving in a good rhythm can struggle to re-establish that efficient stride if forced to break it.
    Really, what is all comes down to is what I call the Golden Rule of Trail Etiquette: "All trail users should work to preserve the tranquility of the backcountry by being sensitive to the environment while respecting all other backcountry visitors."

    Dan
     
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  14. Dan Nelson

    Dan Nelson Hiker, Fisher, Writer, Bum

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    Hehe. Actually, in my book presentations and hiking clinics, when I talk about user interactions and trail etiquette, I use a similar story from my own past to illustrate the unpredictable nature of horses. When working a cattle ranch near my hometown in SE Washington, I was on a horse that had no qualm about pawing at and killing a rattlesnake that slithered into the trail in front of us. But less than 30 minutes later, that gelding nearly threw me when he reared up in terror — having spotted a flat section of cardboard laying to the side of the trail. That perfect rectangular shape (something not commonly found in nature) freaked out his little pea brain while a 3-foot rattler was of little concern.
     
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