When I am out riding my horse on public roads, the KVR, and other trails I meet people walking, on bikes, on ATVs, and in cars and trucks.
Most know that horses startle easily, but often don’t know how best to avoid causing a problem. As horses are not a part of daily life for most people, I put forward the following as useful information for the safety of horses and humans.
As prey animals, horses, well-trained or not, are constantly in survival mode, always on the lookout for danger; and what they perceive as danger is often quite mysterious to us as predators. Horses also have about a 270 degree area of sight with blind spots only directly behind and directly in front of them and extremely keen hearing with ears that can swivel in all directions.
If you are driving past a horse and rider, slow and wide is the accepted safe way and much appreciated by the rider; non-riders have no idea how swiftly horses can shift from zero to 100 forward, sideways or up! Accelerate when you are well past the horse, not beside them, and as smoothly as you can.
When crossing bridges, as on the West Bench, riders tend to move their horse to the middle for safety in case their horse spooks at something, but also to indicate to drivers that they should stop and wait for the horse to get over the bridge. This has nothing to do with the training of the horse nor the competence of the rider, but with the horse’s nature. A delay of at most a minute is surely worth it for the safety of everyone.
On trails, the best tactic for pedestrians is to stop and wait for the horse and rider to pass. Bike riders can safely pass slow and wide. Avoid creeping up silently on a horse from behind; say something while a good distance back so that the horse knows it’s a human behind them. How they see us when we’re on a bicycle is anybody’s guess! On trails in the hills, sudden meetings are sometimes unavoidable; we all need to be vigilant though riders usually have prior warning from their horses.
ATV riders should act like people in cars; do not come up fast or suddenly behind horses, slow down, pass as far away from them as you can on the trail, and accelerate evenly when past the horse. If the trail is narrow and you’re approaching a horse and rider, it’s best to stop and let them pass. Always avoid sudden engine revs.
Horses do have the right of way though. We must all use common sense and be courteous. For our part as riders, we should avoid coming up quickly on other users, keep our horses at a walk and at a safe distance when passing someone, and be ready to stop and/or get off the trail if necessary for safety.