• Interesting opinion piece. I am ignorant on horse culture and equestrian recreation. My question is…Do horseback riders (or mountain bikers for that matter) using public lands pay for the privilege? Similar to how anglers, hunters, boaters, campers, and ATVers pay for licenses/permits to use these public spaces? Also, many of the aforementioned outdoor users typically go through a “users” education course before geting the desired license/permit. Isn’t it time that all outdoor enthusiasts contribute all little to the greater good? Instead, we have a system where a few pay for the privilege to use the resource, and those that do not pay get their feelings hurt when someone doesn’t consider their wants and feelings. When will we, as an outdoor community, begin taking the stewardship of these opportunities seriously? Until we do, all we will read about is…the bad behavior of people that (insert activity here).
    Also, as a reminder, your $7000 Mt. Bike, your $2000 paddleboard, and your $12,000 horse trailer are not taxed at the time of purchase to subsidize the resource. The equipment hunters and anglers purchase is taxed in this manner.

    • david


      To answer you question: yes and no, some outdoor spaces require you pay to enter the park, or trailhead, others no. Some national parks you have to pay a backcountry permit to camp for x amount of days.

      But I think anglers and hunters are paying for the privilege to kill, or attempt a kill an animal no? Not simply being there and move about the public space like hikers and bikers. Comparing boaters and hikers, ATVS and mtbs, is kind of apple to oranges…a bit odd. I mean yes, they both occupy outdoor space but two are both clearly motor vehicles and should indeed have some more oversight than a hiker, biker, skier or horseback rider.

      That being said I agree with your ideas that a portion of tax towards outdoor products go to wilderness causes, or, for example if mtbs are allowed in the wilderness, I would for sure be willing to take a class and get wildness permit, or something to that effect. When you go backpacking in certain parks you have to do that.

      • Chris Kirk


        Your points are well taken. Maybe I didn’t articulate mine well enough. All outdoor users, whether hikers, bikers, horse riders, boaters, and hunters/anglers impact those public spaces they occupy. Yet only a small number of the overall users get taxed for the priviledge of being there. A portion of the sales tax collected on the purchase of firearms, ammunition, and some other hunting equipment gets diverted to the federal government to be used for educational purposes, habitat restoration/conservation projects, and wildlife management initiatives. It does not matter if the item bought is used to kill an animal or not. It is a myopic view that hunters and anglers are only paying for the privilege to kill an animal. See a description the Pittman Robertson Act here…

        Maybe it is time to revisit the Pittman Robertson Act of 1937 and include the numerous constituencies that occupy and impact these public spaces. No outdoor recreational pursuit is completely benign and has zero impact on the environment. I am only advocating for the concept of stewardship. We should each give a little something so the next generation has the opportunities we have been provided.

  • Andrew


    A few years back, some friends and I were heading out of the Glacier Peak Wilderness on the last day of a 4 day backpacking trip. We ended up following a horse team on the final, long trail back to our cars. They were probably a mile or two ahead of us so we were unable to overtake them. It was one of the worst trail experiences I’ve had in 20+ years of hiking. The sheer amount of manure left on the trail was disgusting and the trail damage left in their wake was significant.

    I’m glad to hear your community gives back to the trails but I have a question for you. Why is nothing done to keep the manure off the trails? Or perhaps I just had a bad experience with an irresponsible group?

  • LmnMrng3.14


    We have a fair amount of mixed use trails (hiking, mtn biking, and equestrian) around us. Personally, I think it’s ridiculous that I have to pick up my dog’s poop and horse owners are free to go about their way without picking up after their horse. Perhaps that simple disparity in trail/pet etiquette has something to do with the apparent lack of respect.

  • Denny


    I understand the argument for equal trail rights and recognition in the marketplace but it seems like you’re completely missing the mark. If it were equality and respect you’re asking for, then clean up your horse’s shit and yield to others….a horse can do a helluva lot more damage to trail users than a biker or hiker due to their unpredictable manners. Horses destroy trails around my area, much more so than a human foot print or a tire track. I have documented numerous trails where horses destroyed bench cut trail and left piles and piles of shit in their paths for everyone else to step/ride in. If you haven’t gathered, I despise horses because they are large, unpredictable, and spooky creatures that can seriously hurt other people. Want the reason for lower numbers of horses? ATV’s are cheaper, require MUCH less maintenance, can travel further at a faster pace, and behave in a predictable manner. I for one would be okay with never encountering a horse on a trail ever again… but to each their own.

  • Natch


    Yes, most people into outdoor recreation are looking to enjoy nature but unfortunately our chosen modes of transportation are poorly compatible. Horses pulverize the ground and leave manure all over the place, which is undesirable by anyone on foot or bike. Bikes can travel fast and silent, which is undesirable by people on foot or horseback. Motorcycles and ATVs can move very fast, are noisy, pulverize the ground, and spew exhaust, which is undesirable by just about everyone not in or on a motorized vehicle at the time. People on foot travel relatively slowly compared to all others and can be slow to react.

    In the case of outdoor recreation, it seems that segregation makes everyone happiest and safest. Each user group getting their own area reduces conflict, and it’s worked fairly well where I live. There is some cross-use but each group tends to go to their usual areas. Segregated use is easier in places where there is enough open space but is hard to do where there’s limited available terrain though.

  • DanO


    I like horses. I like most horse people I have met. But I don’t always appreciate them on the trail. I can remember starting out on a 26 mile hike in YNP up the Lamar and Miller Creek to Parachute peak. It had just hailed and was raining, and the trail from the road was 2.5 foot wide rut caused by the packhorses which are allowed on the trails. This became a mud sluice for the first 3 miles of trail, mixed with horse dung. I contemplated the outfitter who was making money in the park ( I know, he has to pay for that privilege) and got more pissed. By the time we broke off for Miller creek, it was better, but I would have eaten a horse steak that night in revenge..

    But I got over it and still like horses, just not on narrow hiking trails. I will step off the trail for any horse and do so without rancor. For this, I expect you will be able to control your horse at least as well as I control my dog. And therein can lie the issue….

  • Sinjin Eberle


    I unfortunately will echo most of the comments above – it’s all about pooping and politeness.

    As a mountain biker in the Front Range of Colorado over 13 years, I experienced dozens of interactions between mountain bikes and horses, most notably on the Colorado Trail near Buffalo Creek, about an hour west of the Denver metro area. My observation was that MOST of the time, mountain bikers would go way out of their way to stop early, get off their bike, get way off the trail, speak gently and pleasantly to to ride (and sometimes the horse) and wait for the horse to get some distance down the trail before starting to ride again. Time after time, I did this, or I witnessed this. I grew up on horses – I get how spooky then can be and how fast they can come up on a horse.

    Time after time, I also dodged (or failed to dodge) horse apples in the trail. I splashed through horse pee dozens of times. And one time in particular, on a popular Saturday in June, there was about an 60-horse ride/rally going on in this exact area. After waiting for dozens of horses to ride by, I asked the ride’s assigned safety officer why there were no signs in the parking lot about this event, or why the event was chosen to be held on quite possibly the busiest weekend of the summer. Their response? “We have just as much right to this trail as you do…” Well, true, and upon further inquiry, that was the only response that they would give me – “that it is their right.” That’s not an answer, that’s arrogance.

    Just yesterday, I was on a trail here in Durango. Beautiful day, hardly anyone around, and as I bombed a popular downhill, there it was, square in the middle of the trail – a big pile of horse poop.

    So I ask the horse people this – if you have such great hope and expectation that mountain bikers give you the respect and space so that we don’t spook your animal (fair enough), why can’t you provide a similar measure of respect and effort and carry a small, $5 rake on your saddle? Why can’t, if your horse needs to do its business, that you can’t hop off and scoop the poop off to the side of the trail, so other users don’t have to experience it in the middle of EVERYONE’s trail? It would take you 45 seconds to get out your rake, dismount, scoop it over to the side with a quick flick, then remount. Easy! I am not asking you to pack it out (like you would for me or my dog’s poop), and I am not asking that you don’t ride there (yup, even though your hooves do more damage to the trails than any other use), because you have a historical, legacy use in these places. I get it.

    So, could you please help us out, and in return I guarantee there will be less resentment towards your vocation.

  • Alex


    I found the title of this Opinion piece quite amusing. Equestrians are among only 2 user groups (the other being humans using their own two feet) who are allowed on trails within designated wilderness areas. As many have mentioned, they are the only trail users who don’t pack out what they pack in. Seems like they are getting more than enough respect. Horses are beautiful creatures, and I respect the legacy of horses on trails. Both my parents were equestrians, it’s great! But please don’t act as though they’re getting the short end of any stick.

  • Justin


    Pick up your horse s@:t.

  • Dpschloss


    Living in rural NJ, it’s not uncommon to see horses in the bike lane going to from trail. Equestrian market is far larger than bikes, at least here. Think about it; you buy a bike and you’re good for a bit. Buy a horse, and that thing needs , food, shelter, and healthcare. Major bucks. Most horse owners are not apartment dwellers either. They have large properties and pay big tax bills, and are very involved with local politics( at least here) since 10 acres in the garden state warrants an $8k tax bill minimum.

  • Peter Arthur


    Agreed…. Fascinating post. I have always wondered why dog people are expected to clean up after their animals on the rails trails around here, but horse people don’t? What kind of logic is that?

  • Jesskis


    when does the cliche “horses made all those trials back in the day” expire?

  • Steve


    Ditto on many of the above comments. Clean up the poop, then let’s talk. Trail damage is obviously a problem. And group size limits are crazy too, for example in the Sawtooths you can have a max of 12 people and 14 stock. 13 people, you’ll get a fine. Really, one more human has more of an impact than 14 horses?

  • spotswood


    Mountain bikers should be allowed to go wherever horses go. Horses fuck up trails even more than motorcycles, yet they are allowed in Wilderness. As a biker I have had many great interactions with horse people, but a lot of them are real assholes who have zero control over their animals, and think they own the trail.

  • bcb


    Horses are horrible for trails, they never clean the manure, and you never ever see a horse person building or out maintain trails.

    I was always offended that mtb’ers got compared to them.

  • JT


    I just returned from a Team River Runner event in a small town in Ohio where we stayed at a camp ground that is also a livery for canoe rentals and shuttles on the creek that runs through town and next to the campground. Needless to say, it was a busy place on this beautiful August weekend. We arrived on Sat. and when walking across the bridge over the creek to a pub for dinner there was a giant and scattered pile of horse crap on the walkway. One of our group said that it was there when they arrived the day before. It was still there on Sunday eve, 3 days later. Really, who the heck walked their horse down the sidewalk and kept going after their horse took a dump in the middle of the town bridge! As for the bike/horse thing on trails, I also belong to a rather large mt bike club that does the lion’s share of trail building/maintenance in a large mixed use 80ish mile trail network. Just once I’d like to say hello to someone on a maintenance day who tells me they ride their horse there. Who shows up besides the mt. bikers? Runners, yep. Dog walkers, sure thing. Fishermen yes. Bird watchers, check. Hikers, also yes. Equestrians, none that I’ve met, sadly and they make the most work for everyone else.

  • axle


    “Equestrians Deserve Respect” Do they? Yes, well respect is earned. Unfortunately many of the equestrians I have encountered on the trails have an obnoxious sense of entitlement, barking orders at other trail users, because they can’t control their horses. Maybe you shouldn’t get on the back of a skittish prey animal until you have trained it properly. And I will echo the sentiments of others here: I have worked on many trail building days, and never seen an equestrian out working on the trails. It’s always mountain bikers building and improving trails, yet cyclists are the ones who get no respect.

  • Kevin Woolley


    Horses destroy trails. Wilderness regs allow groups of 14 people to have 14 horses, which encourages the party to pack heavy and excessive gear. Almost all of the metal trash I find in campsite locations is from horse groups. In fact, horse campers seem to leave almost all of the trash, probably because they can carry so much more. They should not be banned, but they should be strictly limited, no way should parties of 14 people and 14 horses be allowed in high visitation areas.

  • fjallman


    Glad to see that the comments make more sense than the piece. Maddy, how oblivious can one possibly be?

  • maxwell


    To everyone saying pick up the horse poop, they don’t do it because it’s just not possible. You cannot get a horse to empty their bowels ahead of time like you might a dog. They poop all the time, and again when they get startled. You cannot pack out that much material. You might be able to dismount, flick it aside with a small shit-covered rake that you carry with you on your horse in your shit-rake satchel, then remount and continue on, but that 2 minutes times every horse in the group, times 3 or 4 stops per horse per hour… not practical and not going to happen. Might as well tell everyone to stop texting while they drive. And dismounting and holding your horse while working a small rake with your head right down by the rear hooves, not very desirable or easy, especially for small or older people. And a lone rider or the last in a line doesn’t even know when their horse poops. They do it walking with no warning.
    That said, dog poop may be much less quantity but is much more disgusting and slow to break down. Horse poop is grass tomorrow. Maybe a little bacteria. Dog poop you can also reasonably do something about and even pack out (or just leave in a green bag for someone else to pick up).
    That said, I’m a mountain biker and hate riding through horse poop choked trails. My solution is to ride where they are not, and to get over it when I can’t. Self-segregate by mode of transport, since we all hate each other out there. Or just remind yourself it’s better than being at work.