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Kerry Greear, a member of the American Endurance Ride Conference’s Education Committee, writes about building relationships with other trail users for the benefit of all.

 

 

Bikes and horses: changing attitudes

 

Six years ago, my friend Lori Johnson and I were riding our horses on public land near my home on a perfect Saturday in June. After saddling our horses, we led them toward a gate and experienced our first interaction of the day: a mountain biker who was getting ready to go on a ride with his children.

photo of bikers and horses riding in a big arena together

An exercise to sensitize bikers to horses and horses to bikes; photo from Black Hills Trails


The biker was rather abrasive and complained about equestrians damaging trails when they are wet, expecting bikers to stop and get off the trail, and generally causing aggravation. Lori and I were nice to them, our horses were well behaved, and I left with a comment about all of us getting along and getting to know each other better.

Our second and third interactions with bikers on “our trails” were equally negative. The following weekend I talked with my son, who is a mountain biker, about the possibility of changing attitudes and learning more about each other. And I hatched a plan.

The following month a mountain bike race was scheduled near Sturgis, SD, near my home. With a copy of the ride map, my horse Hawk and I were ready at mile 20 to get behind the last rider and “sweep.” I picked up GU containers, lost water bottles, and a few parts lying along the trail.

Ten miles later, I found an injured woman in an area with no cell phone service. After making sure she was okay, I helped her mount Hawk and pushed and rode her bike down the trail until she could call her family. I took her to a place they could pick her up along with her bike. I continued on and at the finish line received a substantial standing ovation... and many thanks for the trash and parts I’d picked up along the trail.

After that, I noticed a slight thawing of attitudes when I met mountain bikers out on the trail. I decided to do a repeat at a mountain bike race at Sundance, WY. My son put me in touch with the ride manager who said he had three volunteers riding bikes as safety personnel. I suggested he let me take the place of one of them and he agreed.

While waiting for the start of the race, several riders came over and told me there was a mountain bike race that day and I should probably stay off the trails. I replied to them that I was actually aware of the race and was there to help them by being a “sweep rider.” They were very skeptical.

Some of the riders were slow on the hills and shared trails the first few miles of the race. After the novice riders went on a different section, followed by the biking safety rider, I followed the experts. At aid stations, volunteers put water in a large pan for Joe and admired his hoof boots. They were excited about my job that day.

At the finish, several riders talked with me. They could not believe how quickly we covered the mountainous trail and wondered how I got Joe around and over some of the boulders and crevices on a section of trail. They thanked me for picking up lost tools and dropped water bottles.

photo of bikers and horses riding in a big arena together

Callifornia State Trails Conference attendees demonstrate ways to
develop trust in bike/equestrian encounters; photo by Stuart Macdonald

After that, the level of cooperation and understanding snowballed between the mountain bikers and horseback riders in the northern Black Hills. Several of us and our families started working on new trails and fixing old trails with the bikers in conjunction with Forest Service and BLM personnel.

The mountain biking group and our local Black Hills Back Country Horsemen of South Dakota put together a trail safety workshop with demonstrations on what to do for yielding on the trail and interactions on the trail. We made better efforts at communicating with each other and working together for our mutual love of the trails.

This past summer, our BHBCH group volunteered to manage the last aid station on the very difficult Tatanka 100 mountain bike race. The aid station was in an area where mountain bikers had ridden 60 miles and climbed several thousand feet over rocky terrain.

Taking a cue from our endurance rides, I made signs to put along the trail starting one mile from the station. The first one let them know how close they were to aid. Others read, “Ice-cold Coke,” “Or how about chocolate milk?” and the last sign said, “Black Hills Back Country Horsemen.”

We met each rider with a wet bandana for their neck and took care of them. Some simply needed water refills, and wanted watermelon and salty snacks. Some were not in good shape and needed ice and electrolyte drinks. Some needed massage, gears lubed, and “attaboys.” Several riders were going to quit at this spot but continued to finish the race after our ministrations.

After the last rider went through, I went to the race finish and received many hugs. Race management reiterated what he heard from numerous riders that ours was not only the best aid station of the race but it was the best one of any race they had ever done. Several mentioned they really like “horse people” now.

Building relationships with other trail users is not difficult and it benefits all of us. My goals of getting along and improving safety have exceeded my expectations by far. Many other endurance riders across the country are making similar efforts. I would like us to encourage and support these efforts nationwide. We will continue to do our part in the Black Hills!

 

Kerry Greear is a member of the American Endurance Ride Conference’s Education Committee and serves as AERC’s State Trails Advocate for South Dakota.

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