It’s happened to all of us. You’re out enjoying a pleasant ride when suddenly a speeding bike whips around a corner and hurtles toward you. How you react may make the difference between a friendly interaction, a nasty confrontation, and a trip to the hospital. Here are 12 things you can do to keep yourself safe.
Understand the Yield Triangle
We’ve all seen the yellow triangle that shows bikes and hikers are supposed to yield to horses, right? Contrary to popular belief, that doesn’t mean bikes and hikers must get off the trail for you. Instead, it shows that equestrians are responsible for determining the safest way to pass. You’re in charge for the moment, and your job is to figure out whether it’s better for the other person to step off the trail or for you to do so, then coach the other person, so everyone stays safe.
Keep an Eye Out
It would be nice if we could expect cyclists to keep an eye out for us. But the truth is, they can’t. If they’re not watching where their front wheel is about to roll, a pine cone or a stick in the trail could cause them to crash. Realize that they’re focused on the ground in front of them. We equestrians, on the other hand, are 10 feet in the air and can look around. If bikes are allowed on the trail you’re riding, watch for them!
Put the Steadiest Horse in Front
The other horses will take their cue from the lead horse. If the leader doesn’t get worried when he sees an approaching bike, the rest of the horses will stay calm. Likewise, put the second-steadiest horse in back in case cyclists approach from behind.
Say Hello with a Smile in Your Voice
Not only will your friendly greeting set the stage for a pleasant interaction with the cyclist, it will reassure your horse. He can tell from your tone that you’re not worried, and he’ll realize he doesn’t need to fear.
Ask the Bike Rider to Stop
Cyclists should stop when they encounter other trail users. Once all parties have stopped, you can discuss how to pass safely.
Ask Cyclists to Move to the Downhill Side
If you determine that the best option is for the bike rider get off the trail so you can ride by, ask them to step off on the downhill side of the trail. If your horse spooks as he goes by, it’s safer for you if he shies uphill than downhill. Plus, horses have an innate fear of being leaped on by a predator above them, but they aren’t usually afraid of being jumped on from below.
If the cyclist doesn’t move far enough off the trail, ask him to please move farther away. He doesn’t want his expensive bike to be damaged by a frantic horse, so he’ll be happy to oblige.
Step Off the Trail If you Can
Most bicyclists know they’re expected to get off the trail for other users. So they’ll be delightfully surprised when you offer to get off the trail and allow them to ride or walk their bikes past you. You don’t want them to start expecting horses to get off the trails for them, though, so it’s a good idea to say something like, “Hey, this is a safe place for me to get off the trail, so you’re welcome to ride past us this time.” They’ll appreciate the courtesy, and their next interaction with a horseback rider will be more pleasant because you were gracious.
Desensitize Your Horse
Before you go out on a trail where you can expect to see bikes, give your horse a chance to get used to them in a controlled environment. Have a friend ride their bike around you in the arena or attend a horse/bike safety clinic in your area. Your horse will be less likely to spook if he’s familiar with bike riders.
Ask an Open-Ended Question
We all know that as soon as your horse hears a cyclist talking, he’ll realize it’s a human and will calm down. You need to get the bike rider talking. But don’t just cry out, “Talk to my horse!” (The poor cyclist may wonder what language he should speak, since he doesn’t speak “horse?”) Instead, ask the bike rider an open-ended question. (That’s a question that can’t be answered with a yes or no response.) Try: “Hi there! Where are you guys headed today?” or “Good morning! Can you tell me how far it is to the waterfall?”
Ask About Other Cyclists
Horses are herd animals, so they stick together on the trail. Bikes are not herd animals. Plus, the people riding them have varying abilities, so it’s normal for a group of cyclists to string out along the trail. Ask the first rider how many more are in their group, and you’ll know what to expect around the next bend.
Announce Yourself at Blind Corners
If you come to a corner you can’t see around, blow your whistle or call out, so that cyclists approaching from the other side will be alerted to your presence.
If You Meet a Jerk, Let It Go
99% of trail users want to do the right thing. (They may not always know the right thing to do, but at least they’re well-intentioned. And if you coach them on the best way to pass, they’ll generally be happy to comply.) But 1% are jerks who are intentionally rude. (This applies to equestrians, too, unfortunately.) If you encounter a jerk, don’t sink to his level. Just be as pleasant as you can, get past him, and forget it. Don’t let it ruin your ride. The next 99 cyclists you encounter will be much more pleasant!
Check out our comprehensive trail riding guidebooks for Oregon and SW Washington at www.NWHorseTrails.com.