April 26, 2018
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The equine factor: Happy Trails

By Cassie Elia, Special to the BDN

Now that spring has finally arrived, people are shaking off the dust of winter inactivity and taking advantage of the tremendous trail systems we have here in Maine.

Hikers, dog walkers, bicyclists, bird-watchers, people hoping to wear out their small children — and horseback riders. In order to maintain peace among such eclectic groups, some points of etiquette and safety have been established.

The state of Maine has laws about horses being ridden on public roads: http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/29-A/title29-Asec2055.html. The articles state that horses have the right of way, riders or drivers of carriages must follow the rules of the roads, and drivers of vehicles may not harass horses ridden or driven on the roads.

Just because horses have the right of way, that does not give riders liberty to meander all over the place and expect everyone else to clear out. Riders need to use common sense. When in groups, go single file and stay on the shoulder as much as possible (pavement is rough on horses’ legs and hooves anyway).

Drivers, this means that if you are approaching horses, slow down and pass with caution as far to the side as is safe. You may not honk, throw things at the horses, yell, or taunt in any way. It is for the safety of horses, riders and the drivers that the laws were made.

Some rapscallions may think it funny to purposely spook a horse. It would not be so funny if that spooking horse jumps through the rapscallions’ windshield because it got scared. I’ll pause for a moment while you cringe.

On trails, riders may come upon any of the groups mentioned or off-road vehicles. The rules are the same; all others must yield to the horses. After all, we riders are the ones dealing with the half-ton, unpredictable, living being.

To be courteous and safe, when passing equestrians head-on, both parties pass as cars on the road would pass, left sides to the center. If you are approaching horses from the rear, make a clear, not overly loud, announcement that you intend to pass, (such as “Cyclist passing on the left,” and not “Look out! I’m comin’ through!”) and calmly go around as far as possible with just enough speed to get past without creating a wake. Or is that for boats? Same idea, anyway.

Horses are amazing, fantastic animals but they can be fools occasionally. They are prey animals so they have a fight-or-flight instinct. When they sense danger, whether it is real or whether they are pretty sure that the empty MacDonald’s bag contains a pack of horse-eating tigers, they will run if possible, and if not possible, they become fractious in an effort to escape. If all other parties remain calm (no screaming), an agitated horse usually can be settled.

If anyone notices a raucous horse (one that is going sideways, hopping up and down, kicking or scrambling backward) it’s best to quietly get as far out of the way as possible and let the rider get control. If there is a riderless horse careening down the trails or roads, unless you have experience handling horses, just get out of the way. The horse will not try to chase or attack a person (unless you happen to be out jogging with a bag of carrots in each hand), but it may not be able to swerve or stop in time if there are obstacles.

Dogs, while also amazing animals, can occasionally be a little loopy.  If horses are in the vicinity, leash or hold your dog’s collar until the horses are well in the distance. This will avoid injury to the horse, the rider and the dog.

We, the equestrians, pledge to maintain (as much as possible) control of our horses when in company, to walk past other trail users in single file (calmly so as not to create a wake), and to pass with care and good distance. We all want to be able to enjoy the outdoors in Maine, and we can, if everyone agrees not to be rapscallions.

Cassie Elia invites you to visit her blog at www.ridinraffles.blogspot.com

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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