Credit: Courtesy of Jan Hancock, USFS
Pay attention to trail conditions. Horse hooves can do irreparable damage to plants and soil.
Setting out on the trail with your horse is a magical moment. The promise of quiet solitude, the beauty of nature, relaxing with friends, the companionship of a beloved horse, and enjoying a bit of adventure are all part of the attraction.
How did this inviting trail become available to you?
In this era of disappearing land for equestrians, you can’t take any trail for granted, whether public or private. Good relationships with both public land managers and private landowners are imperative.
Have you developed a good relationship with the manager or landowner of your favorite trails? Do you have a written agreement or an informal understanding? Do you show your respect for the manager/owner by using trails responsibly? Treating the land with respect contributes to the trail’s durability and availability. Damaging a trail can lead to loss of trail access.
It’s not uncommon for a private landowner to deny access to existing trails on his or her land, posting the dreaded “No Horses Here” sign. Public-land managers, citing damage to sensitive lands, post “Access Denied” notices. Disappointing and often irreversible.
Here, we’ll first give you guidelines for responsible trail riding that will help keep trails open to equestrian use. Then we’ll list six ways you can help prevent closure of your chosen trails. We’ll also provide trail-conservation publications and resources.
The Cycle of Erosion
Know the trail condition before you ride, especially during inclement weather. Thoughtlessly slogging through wet areas can cause extensive damage and create unsafe conditions.
All user types will have some impact when trails are used after heavy rains, but a horse’s heavy body weight combined with compact, sharp hooves churn up wet ground, plants, and soil. Eroded soil washes into the nearest stream or pond as sediment.
This can happen quickly if there’s nothing to protect or prevent the soil from moving. It affects the waterway by reducing oxygen and obscuring the riparian wildlife habitat. Other pollutants, such as herbicides and fertilizers, further reduce water quality. Downstream, it all ends up in our drinking water.
Riders and other users tend to avoid the wettest or most eroded part of the trail and traverse the edges, which damages habitat and leads to an
Credit: Courtesy of Jim Thode
Well-designed trails drain well and stand up to equine use. But give trails a rest for at least 48 hours after a heavy or prolonged downfall.
endless cycle of degradation.
This cycle continues until the trail is no longer usable — or until the manager/landowner recognizes the damage and puts a stop to trail use altogether.
What You Can Do
Education and proper stewardship are critical to maintaining trail access for equestrians. With support from the Stewards for Trails, Education & Partnerships (STEP) program — a project of the American Quarter Horse Association and Tractor Supply Company — the Equine Land Conservation Resource has partnered with Tread Lightly! to launch the Respected Access is Open Access campaign.
The purpose of this campaign is to educate trail riders and promote responsible stewardship of trails to protect access. Here are six ways you can contribute to these efforts.
Keep up-to-date. Stay abreast of new trail planning in your community. Help ensure new trails and trail repairs are designed to shed water and hold up under the stresses of equine use.
• Volunteer. Volunteer to help with trail maintenance. Contact your local chapter of Back Country Horsemen of America. This organization performs and tracks countless hours of volunteer trail maintenance activities nationwide.
• Avoid wet/damaged trails. Avoid wet or damaged trail areas. Let the landowner know about these areas so others can be informed.
• Form a riding club. Organize your fellow trail riders, and form a riding club. Clubs can focus on both enjoyment and trail stewardship by informing members about trail conditions and who can use private land, and communicating with the landowner to resolve developing issues. Post current information on your website and social-media accounts, and send it to everyone on your e-mail list.
• Check trail conditions. Local/regional and state parks often post trail conditions and emergency weather situations with advice about trail closings on their websites and Facebook pages. If your club uses these public trails, you can check these alerts and spread the word to your members.
• Monitor private land. Private trails may require more effort, as landowners seldom post information about trail conditions on their own land. Designate certain club members to observe and report unfavorable trail conditions to the club manager, then spread the word to your members.
For more information on trail conservation, as well as ready-to-post public-service announcements, go to www.elcr.org.
Back Country Horsemen of America
Equine Land Conservation Resource
Respected Access is Open Access Campaign
Stewards for Trails, Education &