To the trail! by Morgan Hulbert
The many benefits of riding
There are many beneficial health outcomes of horseback riding. Equestrians have been known to experience stress relief through the redirected focus during riding, increasing the strength of the core through constant postural adjustments, and strengthening of the inner thigh and pelvic muscles, just to name a few (American Horse Council, 2017). Additionally, the environment that someone rides in can be of importance. In a 2013 study on trail riding, equestrians who hit the trails were shown to place importance on not only the physical activity horseback riding could bring (88.0%), but more so on the opportunity “to view the scenery” (96.4%), and to be close to nature (94.0%) (Schneider, Earing, & Martinson, 2013). Through personal experience, riding on trails can also serve as great trust building sessions between a horse and rider as you travel through an environment with many moving objects.
Difficulties of trail riding
Despite the obvious benefits of trail riding, riding on trails that are shared exposes the potential for a negative experience. In the same 2013 trail riding study, there a few problems experienced by trail riders: hearing others who are using the trails, seeing litter during the trail ride, and directly seeing or seeing evidence of off-trail use (Schneider et al., 2013). Although these were shared amongst other, nonequine trail uses, the stress associated with these problems was much higher in equestrians (Schneider, Schuweiler & Bipes, 2009) In addition, as horse owners know well, horses are flight animals. This often poses a challenge with things they cannot see, and especially things that come unpredictably out of nowhere (personally thinking of a human rounding a corner or a 4-wheeler unexpectedly nearby). This could very well be the reasoning for the high stress associated with problems on the trail.
The benefits of equine inclusive trails (multi-use trails)
Besides the benefit for horse and rider, there are many other benefits to trails that include horses (multi-use trails). Multi-use trails invite more trail use, and in turn promote more trail maintenance. Horses have also played an enormous role in American history and our continued, ever-changing relationship we have with them is supported by multi-use trail use. In addition, adding another trail use, such as horseback riding, can promote economic growth in the general community and amongst the equine community. [adapted from Dan Gruen’s NYSHC website letter promoting multi-use trails]
What can we do as trail riders?
As trail riders, we can follow proper trail etiquette. If approaching someone from the rear, and you are going at a faster speed than they are, slow down as to not “tailgate”, and pass when there is enough space to do so. In addition, we know that there is going to be bright reflective material and other “scary” things on the trail, so it is important to desensitize horses to these things at home before going out on the trail (McNabb & Bennett, 2019). A link to more trail etiquette tips can be found at the end of this article. In addition, becoming an active member of your state horse council can aid in the adoption of trails as multi-use. The New York State Horse Council has created the New York State Horse Council Trail Committee with elected New York State Horse Trail Preservation representatives that work with groups throughout the state to develop multi-use trails and promote education on their use. Trail riders can also check out local park websites to determine the parks nearby that are multi-use. If they are not, there are certain trail widths and criteria that it must meet before it can be adopted as multi-use. These can be brought to the attention of the local government and DEC office. If you are interested in resources to help during this process, you can see the contact list below.
Multi-use trails can be a benefit for all who use them. Maintaining proper trail etiquette can ensure that we erase the negative stigma of trails open to horse use. Trail riders and outdoor enthusiasts alike pursue the wilderness for the same breathtaking scenery and to enjoy nature. Sharing that common love for the outdoors will be important in adding more multi-use trails to the list. Happy trails!
Trail Etiquette: https://horseandrider.com/horseback-trail-riding/trail-safety
Contact information for NYSHC trail preservation representatives:
Dan Gruen, Central NY, BrookfieldCTR@roadrunner.com
Carol Schmelz, Western NY, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Wehnau, Eastern NY, email@example.com
American Horse Council, 2017. “Meet-A-Horse-DayPostcard”. https://www.horsecouncil.org/wpcontent/uploads/2017/07/Meet-A-Horse-DayPostcard.pdf
McNabb, K. & Bennett, A. (2019, May 28). Rules of the Road on the Trail. Horse & Rider.
Schneider, I. E., Earing, J., & Martinson, K. (2013). Revealing Motivations for and Conflicts Associated with Recreational Horseback Trail Riding. Journal of Forestry, 111(4), 282–286. https://doi.org/10.5849/jof.12-056
Schneider, I., Schuweiler, A. and Bipes, T. (2009). Profile of 2008 Minnesota Recreational Trail Users. Information adapted from Schneider, Earing & Martison, 2013