What are the general rules when encountering a mounted horse rider on a trail? I understand if we are approaching each other I would dismount, move to the side of the trail, and allow them to pass. However if I am overtaking them while traveling in the same direction (say going down hill), how should I alert the rider and not startle the horse?

I have not yet come upon a rider on my regular trails, but I have noticed an increase in road "apples," so I know it is inevitable. I have heard that dismounting is important as the horse may not recognize you as a person due to the unusual movement (from the horse's perspective).

  • 6
    Very good question! I've heard that some horses can be spooked by bicycles, so there may also be safety issues here. Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 1:19
  • @neil yes, as most of the answers point out, it can be very dangerous, espercially for the horse rider, if the horse is spooked by a bike. Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 3:25
  • The question is trail-related, but the answers sometimes take the more general approach of covering roads as well. In both cases you need to be careful of other hazards - the simple road example is oncoming cars as you pass very wide trail have there own hazards that I'm no expert in, but I've been caught out passing wide and ending up where I really don't want to be (deep liquid mud when I'm on commuter tyres, ruts too deep to pedal in, etc.)
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 12:56
  • Just don't go over or under it. ;-)
    – Drew
    Commented Feb 18, 2019 at 22:19

13 Answers 13


Passing a horse, mounted or otherwise, should be done so:

  • very slowly
  • as quiet as possible. If you have a loud freehub, pedal slowly -- do your best not to coast.
  • with as much space & consideration as possible
  • no sudden movements
  • limit the number of cyclists going past

It all depends on the horses' temperament. Some are OK, some like cars but not bicycles...
Generally, horses with kids/teenagers riding them on the road will be pretty laid back. The horses that are being led by someone are much more suspect.

Competent equestrian owners/staff know that any horse [that will be taken or ridden on roads] needs to be exposed very carefully (for the safety of the horse, the rider, and the general public). They have to accept that the horse may never be comfortable in that setting. But anything could spook the most experienced horse - you never know 100%.

If possible, send a single person ahead to talk to who has control of the horse while watching how the horse reacts.

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    I'm not sure about the 'quiet as possible' part. I think you're better off shouting... or I often cough to make a bit of non-scary noise before you get to it. If you're too quiet, you may freak the horse out at the moment it spots you. Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 19:27
  • @ScottLangham: There's no way to know 100% that the noise you consider non-threatening, is the same to the horse. Slow, quiet movement and as much distance as possible is much safer for everyone involved.
    – OMG Ponies
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 0:35
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    I don't think this should be the accepted answer. My horses would freak if a stranger on a bicycle sneaked up behind them as quietly as possible, and they are used to me riding a bicycle near them. You MUST speak to the horses and assure them that you are human and friendly.
    – chimp
    Commented Oct 29, 2013 at 9:45
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    Downvoted because the most important step -- an audible warning -- was not listed. One should announce their presence from well back -- as soon as in visual/shouting range. Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 12:54
  • @chimp: Exactly. Most of us know that quietly overtaking a person with a dog on a MUP might easily result in the dog getting startled when it finally notices you. The same thing applies to a horse. You need to announce your approach with some sort of sound. Don't make any explosive noises, but also don't be "as quiet as possible". Be heard before you are seen. Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 21:04

I slow down and address the rider in a conversational, even sing-song, tone "Good morning, rider. There are two bikes behind you. Is it Ok for us to pass?" (They almost always say "yes" and thank me/us for alerting them, but it also gives them the option to ask me to dismount or hold back).

Note that despite your having addressed the rider, the conversation is really for the horse's benefit -- the horse now knows there's something approaching, that the something is a human (watch its ears as you converse), and hears that its rider responds calmly and casually.


Officially: Bikes yield to hikers and horses.

Hikers are fine, if you call it out and pass when safe.

Horses can spook easily. Once you see it, stop. Wait for the rider to signal you by. Often I have been simply asked to walk my bike by. Easy. Sometimes it's best to just wait for them to pass.

In your situation, I would get within 10 - 20 yards, and call out the rider, asking if it's okay to pass, or if they mind stopping to wait for you to walk by.

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    You say "officially": which country? Dutch cycle paths are for cyclists, for instance. (Horses often use them, but as a cyclist you theoretically have the right of way). Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 11:51

No one has mentioned it here, but horse owners and llama-packers and mule riders have ALL commented to me : PLEASE STAY BELOW THE ANIMAL AT ALL TIMES WHEN YIELDING OR OVERTAKING. These animals get more spooked by threats from above, (where the threat looks larger or looks like they can pounce) then from below (where the threat seems much smaller).

  • 2
    Which would indicate getting off your bike and walking, since a rider on a bike has a taller profile.
    – zenbike
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 14:19

Whenever you pass a horse, whether walking the bike or rolling, make sure to stay well clear of the hind end. Horses spook easily and may instinctively kick if something approaches them from behind that they can't see or see very well. I'd suggest staying outside of 4 metres/yards behind, or 2 metres/yards to the side of any strange horse no matter how tame or well-trained it may appear.

  • 9
    In a group of horses, the ones with red ribbon tied into tail are known troublemakers - be extra careful around them.
    – Imre
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 4:36
  • 1
    Unless you're riding with the horse, there is no way you should be getting anywhere near kicking distance - that would be deeply inconsiderate riding.
    – Mr_Thyroid
    Commented Nov 20, 2021 at 18:09

There are many horses in the area where I live. I often encounter horses on the trails, and I've had occasion to talk to the riders about proper procedure. Accumulated advice (so far):

  • Talk to the horse as you're passing. "Hi horsey! Aren't you a pretty horsey?" -- that type of goofy talk. It's (allegedly) calming and lets the horse know that you're human.

If you're passing from behind:

  • Ring a bell or call out to the rider as early as possible to let them know.
  • Once the rider knows you're there, be patient -- give them time to get the horse into a position on the trail where it's safe for you to pass.
  • If the trail is narrow, dismount and walk your bike.

If you're passing head-on:

  • Turn off or cover any flashing headlights.
  • If the trail is narrow, dismount and wait for the horse(s) to pass.
  • Talking to the horse as you pass it is the advice I always give. My horses need to know you're human and friendly.
    – chimp
    Commented Dec 14, 2012 at 13:21
  • 1
    Talking can work on dogs too, they often run across the path, where one of the trails here runs through a park. The dogs pay more attention than the owners.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 12:48

As a horse owner I can answer this from experience. If approaching the horse from behind it is important to slow down, as you approach the horse shout 'bike' or make some noise - bikes are very quiet and if you suddenly 'appear' in the horses line of vision and it didn't hear you approach you'll spook it. Pass wide and slow.

If approaching from the front, some horses can be spooked if you stand on your pedals which makes the bike rock from side to side, so if pedalling uphill be aware of this! again slow down and observe the horse. if it's head raises and it's eyes are fixed on you be aware it may not like the look of you and be prepared to stop and dismount.

  • 1
    I tend to drop a chainring at least when I'm around animals, which also indicates how much I slow down. That way I can pedal gently and smoothly. I tend to find a greeting rather than a warning, as a more polite approach, gets better results - save the warning for when you really need it.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 12:51

When the horses are being ridden on the road, then I'd overtake them like I would do when driving: with plenty of space, not too much fuss, and slow enough to stop easily.


I had this happen to me a few weeks ago. I was on a downhill going very fast and caught up to two horses faster than I expected. I just slowed down when I was about 100 feet away and the horses heard me coming. They reacted just a little and so they riders looked back and saw me waiting. They both stopped and waved me to pass them.

They both laughed when I went on the very far side of the trail since I didn't want to get kicked. :)

I'm actually looking into getting a bike bell for my MTB for riders and horses.


I think a lot depends on where you are. If you're on a forest trail where cyclists are the exception, then a lot of deference to the horse (and rider) is wise. If you're on a multi-use trail (or the open road) where horses will often encounter cycles (or other vehicles) then you can be relatively confident that the horse will not spook so long as it has fair warning.

In a way, you've got to know the horse.

  • 1
    Unfortunately "knowing the horse" usually means "trusting the horse/rider". I'm sure most of use have had to tackle some form of ride that was a bit beyond us (on the day or inherently), and the same is true for horses. There are some horses round here that are happy around cars but not bikes, and many that are the other way round.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 12:52

Take these factors into consideration:

A horse is a fairly typical herd herbivore. It is mainly concerned about large, fast-moving predators. Its main means of defence is running away as fast as possible and hoping the predator gets one of the other horses in the herd instead. Its secondary defence is kicking the **** out of anything that gets in a kickable place.

Like other herd herbivores it sacrifices binocular vision for increasing the width of its visible arc - its eyes are to the side of its head. That means that it can see you coming up from behind quite a long way away, as long as you are not in a fairly narrow arc straight up the dock, but it's not very good at telling how far away you are. In the wild, predators try and approach unseen, so horses are very sensitive to movement on the edges of their peripheral vision, and particular to things that duck in and out of their sight, such as a cyclist weaving from side to side. So try to approach from as wide an angle as possible so that it can see you constantly, and ride smoothly rather than doing anything that looks like shaping to pounce. Talking calmly may help.

The rider is a secondary issue, but if you're nice to them they may appreciate it, even if it can sometimes be hard to tell. They won't appreciate suddenly finding themselves twelve feet up in the air on half a ton of animal doing pirouettes, because it's bloody terrifying, for good reason. Also, they're the ones who will initiate lawsuits.


There's an additional issue that wasn't mentioned that worries horse riders. Occasionally cyclists think it is "neat" when riding two-abreast to pass on BOTH sides of an obstacle, one cyclist going to one side, one to the other. With horses this is a dreadful idea. The horse can deal with "terror to the left" by shying to the right, or vice-versa. But "terror on both sides" results in the horse going UP, which is not going to be a favourable situation for any riders, those of wheel or those of horse.

We have been particularly please when driving carriages through trails in the woods (such as Acadia National Park in Maine, or the Mohonk Preserve in New York) to see cyclists stop and wait, or stop and admire the horses. Similarly we have seen motorcyclists at their annual event in Loudon NH stop and shut off their engines at the sight of our horse carriages.

Forethought and politeness are truly appreciated.


My suggestion would be to stay back of the horse until you see an area up ahead that would allow the rider of the horse to get off of the trail safely. Then you could give the horse rider a friendly shout asking if you could pass them. The horse rider will likely look back and act accordingly to your question. The horse rider knows how their horse will react to someone approaching from behind. The rider will likely get as far off of the trail as necessary according to their horse's demeaner. They don't want to get their horse, theirself or you injured by a spooked horse. Wait until they signal it's okay to proceed around them. Thank them with a wave and proceed.

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