What are the general rules when encountering a mounted rider (on a horse) 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 we are traveling in the same direction and I am overtaking them (say going down hill) how would you 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 unusal movement(from the horses perspective).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.