A few days ago, I accidentally rode on a “Horse trail only” on my way to the mountain bike trail. A little old lady on her horse almost lost it when I rode by her and said good morning (my bear bell warned her first). She went off on me that I was not supposed to be there. I kindly apologized and proceed on the trail anyway. My question is, are we seriously not to enter horse trails at all? Just passing by at least?
It depends on the area. My local trail system used to allow horses but they’ve been banned since 2012. I assume this was due to the higher mountain biking, hiking, and running traffic. A little farther away is Big South Fork, where many horse trails are open to mountain bikes and foot traffic. As far as I know there isn’t much conflict between these groups, but it’s a big park with plenty of room for everyone. To answer your question, you shouldn’t ride on trails that specify “horses only” or “hikers only”, but if you’re going to ride one of these types of trails, (which you shouldn’t) ride the hiking trail. The reason for this is that some horses spook easily. A spooked horse can be very dangerous to its rider and to you. Remember, we nail pieces of metal to their hooves, and they can kick really hard. A mountain bike moving fast can be scary to a horse and it could buck its rider, kick the mountain biker, kick anyone else in reach, fall on someone, etc. Somebody riding a nervous horse might ride a horse only trail because it’s safer for them, the horse, and everyone else, as there are supposed to be fewer unfamiliar trail users to scare the horse. Best to be polite to other trail users, and not ride trails you’re not supposed to. Be a good example for other mountain bikers, and don’t give a bad example to someone who might want to take away our trail access.
Horse owners typically pay extra fees or organize and volunteer in large groups to maintain horse trails to predetermined specifications. Plus horses can spook and cause a lot of damage. I believe it is much better and safer if hikers, bikers and horses all have specific trails. They all have unique features that are important for the participants.
Whenever I encounter equestrians, I immediately stop, dismount, pull way off the trail at least 15 ft, and give the horse/rider the full right of way. Horses can be unpredictable! Cyclist should always yield to horses. And yes, you should stay off of horse only trails. Besides, who wants to ride through horse poo?
Plusbike Nerd is right: many horses get scared when they see a person on a bike, which can be extremely dangerous for the equestrian. Unfortunately horses are big, dumb animals so it’s just safer to stay away from them.
Sure, horses and bikes can and do share trails in many places, but honestly I avoid anywhere I might see horses on the trail regularly.