Hold On To Your Horses IT’S A BIKE!
Equestrians and bikers mix like salt in water, for some reason we just can’t get along or can we?
We have all run into rude uncaring bikers, but haven’t we also seen the crazy screaming equestrian. Maybe you are one of the screamers and just don’t know it. We cannot stop each other from using the trail, and it is also apparent that we cannot stop bikers from flying past us, or going on non bike trails, but we can educate and try to get along.
Some of you equestrians expect the bikers to know how horses react; well do you know how bikers think? To understand how to deal with bikers, you should understand why they ride as they do.
To the biker, the horse is a large moving obstacle; it is in their way and leaving messes on the trails. It slows them down and sometimes going so slow causes them to fall as they go up the hill. Some of their run in with equestrians has turned into screaming matches, so why would they want to help us?
First of all understand the difficulty of mountain biking. They like to go fast down the hill so they can get up the next hill. Going up hill is extremely difficult and losing their balance as they go slow up hill, happens more then you think. They are usually focused on whats ahead but not what is on the sides of the trail. They have no warning that we are the other side of a blind curve, until they almost hit one of us and then a new respect for the trail begins. When they go up hill they need to switch gears, which make noise. As they go down hill if they need to brake, the brakes make noise. All their gear can rattle as they go down hill. When they see a horse some, think they should be quiet, so to you they appear out of nowhere and scare the hell out of you. Others are so loud or they get right behind you and ring their bell. Most of them are not trying to kill you; they just don’t know what to do. In their mind, they usually think the faster they get by you, the less afraid your horse will be, or if they divert to a side trail, they think since they are not next to you so it is ok to fly by.
Now bikers, try to understand the equestrian.
Horses are afraid of anything that moves or makes a sound. Some are more afraid then others. So even if you are on a bike and far away like 50 feet, if the horse can see it, it still may spook. If you appear suddenly and ring your bell behind it, you may spook it. The easiest way to put it, think the rider is on a deer. Everyone understands how quick and spooky deer are and how dangerous it is if you hit one. Now, I want you to think your grandma is riding that deer. The grandma that is your favorite, the one who gave you lots of hugs and presents when you were a child. Now you wouldn’t want to kill grandma would you?
The best thing for bikers to do, yell out and ask what to do. The sooner you yell out, the better, do not wait until you are right behind the horse.
Would you like me to stop grandma, is it ok to keep going? Shall I move off the trail? Also don’t divert on another trail and speed by. You may not see grandma fall off because you were going so fast, but believe me, if she didn’t fall off, she is calling her grandson a couple of poor choice names. If you do everything right and the horse still spooks, well that’s what grandma gets for thinking she can ride a deer on the trail when she can’t even ride the deer at home. So ignore any foul language and just move on. Grandma can get a little feisty at times.
Now equestrians, listen very closely, it is not up to the biker to make sure you are safe, sure they can help but in the end you must take the responsibility of riding your horse on the trail. If there are lots of bikes, you need to prepare the horse to be able to deal with bikes. You don’t think the police just get horses and ride them through crowds do you? They train them to deal with them, through practice over and over again.
Also not every horse can be a police horse. So if you are smart you would make the connection that every horse cannot be a good trail horse. If you have busy trails, you either need to find out when it is the busiest and not ride at that time to start, or you need to condition your horse to get use to the busy trails. This may take months to years depending on your horse’s temperament. If you are petrified when you go out, well then you are on the wrong horse. Instead of riding a fancy mount, you need to be riding something close to dead, who is more worried about living another day then spooking at objects. An old mellow gelding will usually do.
Don’ t expect your horse’s training to be done only on the trail. Start somewhere safe like in your arena or round pen. Don’t have anyone to help you? Well ride the bike yourself and pony your horse next to you. First walk the bike, once your horse can follow the bike calmly, get on and shuffle your feet on the bike, once your horse accepts this, then try riding your bike while ponying the horse. Get him use to brakes, the bike bell, gears switching. If he finds out your bike carries cookies, he just may start to love bikes.
Next have a plan on the trail. Don’t take your horse out without round penning it first, it should be calm and thinking not reacting. Take the extra energy out, he still may spook at the bikes but at least it won’t be as bad.
Next what’s your plan? Horses do better when they see the object coming, versus having it come up behind you. So don’t just space out on the trail, your job is to keep your horse safe. So start looking for the bikes.
Every horse has a safety bubble; it will tolerate certain things outside its bubble but not in it’s bubble. Do you know how big your horse’s bike bubble is? Well in the beginning assume it’s very large, so if you can, get out of the bikers way. If you see it coming pull way off the trail and face the biker so your horse sees it coming, do not stand with your horses butt toward the oncoming bike. It’s not good for you and its dangerous to the biker to have your horse possibly kick out, in fact it is plain rude. While your waiting for the bike to past, why not make it pleasant for your horse, if he is somewhat calm and you are good with your reins, let him put his head down and eat, or you could feed him cookies. Once your horse understands that when he sees a bike he gets food, he won’t be so afraid, he may actually be happy. If your horse is nervous, or you are nervous, get off. You only have seconds to make this decision. So if you see a bike and you are not a good rider or you or your horse is extremely nervous, GET OFF.
If your horse runs away, he runs away but at least you are not on him while he is running away. If you say you can’t control him when you are on the ground, then you shouldn’t be out there in the first place; you should be taking groundwork lessons. Let him eat or watch the bike, once your horse is back to calm, get back on, if he doesn’t calm back down. Then walk home and do more preparation at home.
If your horse is nervous but you are confident, first relax your body when you see the biker, that means deep slow breaths, like Lamaze breathing. Next tell him it is ok and even give a little rub on his neck. Next make sure your reins are short, so your hands are out in front of you, then widen your hands and get ready. As he sees the bike keep him facing it. Sit back or lean back so you are ready to go with any movement he does. If he spooks and spins left, turn him back to the right, do not circle away from the bike. If he spooks right you turn him back to the left, once the bike goes by, follow it as far as you can even trot or canter to catch up to it. Horses become brave when things move away, so in time this will increase your horse’s confidence.
If you horse won’t stand still as the bike is passing then give your horse a job. This is the time to practice hard movements because your horse is going to give you energy that he never has at home. So side pass, rollbacks, move shoulders and hindquarters, do a little dance. But use that energy to do something; if you don’t let him move his feet, his anxiety will increase, as the bike gets closer. Because even though he loves you and doesn’t want to kill you. His instinct says run, and as the bike gets closer his instinct says you must run, or you will die from this monster. If you hold him, he will rear, buck you off and run till he feels safe. So give him his feet and let him move, in time he will get better it’s just not today.
If you see bikes coming behind on the trail, try to get off to the side, there is no reason to make the biker come right next to you and your horse. Even if your horse is great, if there is room move over, it’s just plain rude as well for the biker to have to go that close to a dangerous animal. When they pass they will be happy you moved for them, make a nice conversation and thank them for going slow. If you talk enough the biker might even stop and take a break with you, which will help your horse see that the bike is not a horse-eating animal.
If you see a bike coming from the side of a big open area. Make a loop; go out of your way to keep the bike in front of you. Once your horse gets confident and use to bikes, you will not have to do all these things, but in the beginning you need to help him.
Next what if a biker flies up behind you and spooks your horse. Well first of all don’t scream at them. I am sure they did not go on the trail today planning to kill some equestrians. Explain nicely that they almost caused you to fly off the trail and next ask them if they could please just stay still and talk with you for a minute. If you horse is panicked or you are on a bad part of the trail with no room then get off your horse. Your horse will feel safer if he knows you can get eaten first by the bike and he can run away. Yes he loves you, but in his world, it’s all about survival. If he is ok then ask them to slowly go by and ask that in the future if they would please go slower around blind curves, as hitting a 1000 lbs. at 30 miles per hours will end in death for them as well as you.
Next around all blind curves especially on hills try to stay in single file instead of riding next to each other, this way if a bike does come flying up they have somewhere to go. You might say well then they will keep flying down hills. Hey I would rather have them fly past me then hit me. Sometimes you just have to pick the better option.
If I can get a biker to stop I don’t give them a huge explanation about horses and their fears, I just tell them, thank you so much for stopping because riding a horse is pretty much like riding a deer. Everyone understands how fearful deer are, so it makes sense to them without a big explanation.
Next how can we make it better for the bikers, well when you see them, either yell out nicely and ask if they will stop or tell them to hang on and your going to get off the trail for them. Wow a nice equestrian imagine that. If your horse is ok, don’t wait to see if they are going to stop, just yell out, our horses are ok please go by. If they start squeaking their brakes, tell them to just go ahead, as the brake squeaking will usually spook your horse more then just the bike.
Sometimes you just have to give up. You are scared, your horse is scared, you won’t take the time to round pen him, you won’t take the time to practice with a bike, you give every excuse possible and you just think he is like a car. Well, he is not a car and I would think if you couldn’t control your car, you would stop driving it. So it’s the same here, if it is not a good fit, get another horse or stop going on the trail. You need to face reality, so if you and your horse are dangerous together, you are also dangerous to everyone else on the trail. In fact your horse might be fine with the right rider, it may just be you giving off these intense fears that he then feeds off of.