Guest post and a debate post all in one! Horses and their riders sharing the trails with cyclists, runners and hikers seems to be a bit of a hot button topic. People tend to get fired up about it anytime it’s brought up. Why is there so much more emotion involved when horses are brought into the equation? Runners and hikers tend to get annoyed by cyclists, but no one is suggesting they get off the trail- but I have certainly heard people suggest that horses should. I personally have never really liked having such large and unpredictable animals out on the trail with me as I run around, but I knew there had to be some untold part of this story that I was missing. And that I wasn’t capable of writing myself. Even so, when I asked my friend and riding instructor to partner with me for this post, I wasn’t really sure what would come of it. Turns out there was a lot more to say about horses than I expected-
PART THE FIRST: FINDING FREEDOM ON THE TRAIL
By Maureen Kudola
Maureen Kudola is a horse trainer in Ft Collins and surrounding areas, and a guest blogger for this week. Maureen has been training in Ft Collins since 2007, and before that taught lessons in Longmont. She trains both hunter/jumpers and does low level dressage work, specializing in young horses and preparing them for their competitive futures. Maureen is a freelance trainer, traveling around Northern Ft Collins and into Wellington, as long as providing instruction at High Country Stables on the North side of town. She can be reached on at (303) 817-3799 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Men and women have been writing about the connection between humans and horses for hundreds of years. Great men like Winston Churchill, Shakespeare, Salinger, Steinbeck, Melville and others have all waxed poetic about horses’ grace, their nobility, power, and their kindness in allowing us to borrow it, if only for the hours we are around them.
“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” – Winston Churchill
This statement never rings more true for me than when my horse and I saddle up and head out for a ride on the trail, free and unencumbered by fences or any sense of limitation. I am a horse trainer and riding instructor. I have been riding since the age of 5, teaching since 16. I ride several horses a day, usually in an arena, and I love what I do.
But in those moments I need to clear my head, or feel like one of my horses needs a break from schooling, I bypass the arena and steer out to the open space behind my barn. There is no surer cure for a bad day than a strong gallop. Horses belong on the trails of Ft Collins.
Most people living and boarding their horses in Northern Colorado don’t have the luxury of open space at the back gate of their property. In order to find freedom from the drudgery of arena work, most people with horses rely on the wonderful trail systems in and around Ft Collins. There are a few boarding facilities in town fortunate enough to have access to the Poudre Trail System. The downside is that while the Poudre system allows for horse traffic, it is also somewhat narrow and mostly paved, which is not ideal footing for horses to do much more than walk.
The Poudre is a high traffic area as well, with walkers, joggers, cyclists and others including in summer months people looking for a reprieve from the heat carrying inflatable inner tubes. The long and short of which means you probably won’t have a very enjoyable ride unless your horse is accustomed to heavy foot traffic. and you’ll have few occasions to break out of a walk.
Fortunately there are others trail options available to those that live in Ft Collins and surrounding areas. For those with access to a truck and trailer there are many great trail riding sites available and open to horses. For myself and many others, Lory State park is a convenient, close option with many miles of trails to choose from. I know a few endurance riding enthusiasts that condition their horses along Lory’s trails. A day pass or park pass is required for entry. There are several lots accessible to trailers, though I have always driven down to the Southernmost parking lot, which is split into an upper and a lower, the latter which is devoted to horse trailers. There are bathrooms available at the upper lot.
I have always chosen this spot for its proximity to the small cross country jumping area at Lory. Unfortunately I believe most of the jumps were decimated by the fire in the Park earlier this year. When the course was available, it made for a great schooling opportunity for my young horses, and a lot of fun to get off the main trail and let my horses open up a little.
My now 24 year old Thoroughbred gelding, that started his working life at age 2 as a racehorse before becoming my jumper, finds arena work tedious at best at this stage in his life.
When I offload him at Lory and we set out on the trail, I can feel his joy in his bright expression, pricked ears, and the rejuvenated swing in his step. It reminds me of our youth together.
While I know that some people would prefer horses not share the trail systems, most people that I come across while on rides seem to get a kick out of seeing us. I also know that some people simply haven’t spent a lot of time around these animals, or care to, which leads to misconceptions about riders and horses.
When ones experience with horses is limited to single file, nose to tail riding up a trail, their ancient mount who knows the trail better than the guides, doggedly placing one foot in front of another, I can understand not finding any sense of freedom in it. I also understand the misconception that riding is not a sport.
Come take a riding lesson with me, and by the end of an hour I’ll probably have you thinking differently. Some people don’t understand horses in the same way I don’t understand the joy some people get out of yoga. It’s not my thing, and that’s okay, as long as we acknowledge and respect that everyone finds enjoyment in their own way.
Trail etiquette says that horses have right of way. This generally means that hikers and runners veer to a path a few feet out from the main trail as they pass. For bikers it can be a little trickier, as some horses are not comfortable around bikes. Here communication is key. When approaching a horse or group of horses on a trail calling ahead to see if the horses will be okay with you passing is not only greatly appreciated, it’s a smart thing to do to keep everyone safe.
PART THE SECOND: A HEAPING DOSE OF HORSE HATERADE
by Chloe Johnson
So, I’m not a horseback rider. But I spent my summers on a ranch where we rode some of the time- for actual reasons- like getting to places where cars can’t go in order to find cows. Or to go explore a part of the ranch that was too far to walk to. When that’s your perspective of what horse riding is for, plopping your butt on one just to get to the top of a mountain seems like the epitome of laziness. Also, I go out to the trails to get out some excess energy that’s been storing up as I sit at a desk all day.
For myself and most runners and cyclists and even some hikers, outside time is high-output time. You’ll never convince me that human-powered recreation isn’t the way to go.
But maybe the problem is that I just don’t like them much in the first place. I’m not a very good rider and a horse did try to eat my hair once. Or maybe I’m just bad at sharing. Regardless, every time I get to a trailhead and see trailers full of horses, I can’t help but roll my eyes.
For starters, why are you hauling a huge trailer around with an animal inside it so that you can do the equivalent to sitting on your ass in front of the TV? You aren’t going anywhere everyone else doesn’t go by foot or bike. Get off your ass and move it up the hill yourself. Bah!
Why is it ok to bring an animal that large on a trail where there are tons of people, dogs and bikes? My totally harmless dog has to be on a leash, but it’s ok to give your horse the opportunity to spook (because horses are so reliable…) and kick someone in the brain?
Horses are big animals, it’s not like you can control them if they don’t want you to.
If I end-up brained by a horse while out for a run, please put this on my tombstone: Here lies Chloe, killed by a horse. See, I told you so.
And this is a nit-picky thing, but they’re so large and clumsy on the trail that everyone has to get out of your way by mere logistic default. It’s like all the annoying things about cyclists and bad dogs got rolled into one. One that’s bigger. And poopier.
And what is with the poo exception? I have to pick up my dog’s poo but no, no; that huge mountainous pile of turd is definitely ok? Even in the parking lot? Especially in the parking lot. Which is all the more confusing to me because horse owners clean stalls so horses aren’t standing around in poo, but somehow it’s cool beans to leave it on a trail where everyone else in town has to stand in it? What?
While we’re talking about the parking lot, no worries, feel free to take up all the parking on a busy Saturday with your enormous trailers. In fact, take up all the parking and then let your horses stand in the remaining open spots. I mean, the rest of us came here to run or bike anyway; we may as well just start from town.
But horses are sort of pretty and really I can deal with all that stuff. Horses aren’t my thing and other people love them. I can just get over it. BUT the thing that drives me absolutely crazy is all the damage horses do to trails.
Why are (let’s say) 5% of trail users allowed to make 70% (I’m guesstimating) of trail damage?
Runners and hikers don’t even come close to the kind of trail damage that horses create. And even cyclists are a distant second. Ever notice how you almost never see horses on the trail but always their tracks? Yeah.
I know that once riders have bothered saddling and trailering the horses and driving over, and all that nonsense, they’re not going to just turn around and go home if the trail turns out to be muddy. So they ride anyway and create huge divots and permanently weaken the trail. And then other people have to rebuild it or pay an unfair share to rebuild it just so they can ruin it again.
And this chapps my ass- (those familiar with saddle soreness will understand) I never see horse people at trail days. Lots of hikers and runners. Plenty of cyclists. Never once run into a rider. So basically, they show up, ruin everything, and then leave. Perhaps they didn’t notice this trend because they were too busy forcing something else to drag their asses up a hill.
I simply have to believe that horses being allowed on trails, or at least busy trails or trails in town, is some kind of annoying leftover from ye olden days like how beating your wife with a two inch strap on the courthouse steps is still legal in South Carolina (ah, the good ole’ days…..).