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American Trails presented "Horses and Trails – How to Be Successful with Both!" as a part of the American Trails "Advancing Trails Webinar Series"

 

arrow A recording of this webinar is available for purchase. Original webinar took place September 18, 2014.

arrow See more about the webinar "Horses and Trails – How to Be Successful with Both!"

 

QUESTIONS and ANSWERS from webinar on Equestrian Facilities

American Trails presented "Horses and Trails – How to Be Successful with Both!" on September 18, 2014 as a part of the American Trails "Advancing Trails Webinar Series."

Webinar follow up Questions & Answers by Jan Hancock

 

Q. Can you also talk about shared use trails and how to manage hiking, mountain biking and equestrian use on the same trail?

As most trail users realize, the factors of speed, resource degradation, and safety are challenging on shared trails. With the national awareness of the reduction in funding for trails that currently exists, we realize that sharing trails is reality if we are to provide trails for the American public.

To make trails safer for all users, there are two important factors that can help mitigate dangers: (1) greater sightline visibility (or warning signs, if this cannot be achieved) and (2) the education of trail users. ALL trail users in communities across the nation need to meet together with each other as often as necessary to find solutions for the best ways to share their trails and sustain the tread health of the trails in their area.

If trail users are not working together successfully for shared use, then trail restrictions or closures to users who are endangering the safety of others, or are causing significant trail tread damage, can be considered, or alternating days of trail use on specific trails for specific trail users can be a last resort. You’ll know your educational message relating to sharing trails is resonating in your trails community when your trails user groups begin the process of self-monitoring.

Always remember that American Trails and the National Trails Training Partnership are a national, and a growing international resource of helpful, positive solutions, such as this webinar, providing information, education and assistance pertaining to trail sharing and other trails-related concerns and issues.

 

Q. Are there significant differences between well designed mountain bike trails and horse trails?

The answer is, actually there are relatively few differences between well-designed mountain bike and horse trails. Consider the dual similarities: desire for good sightlines, longer distances, increasing levels of difficulty to challenge trail users (and riders’ animals), great landscapes and scenery, interesting destinations, opportunities to experience different flora and fauna... well, you get the picture.

When you factor mountain bike speed into the trail design, and the relatively overall larger size of the horse, as well as the inherent fear factor of equines that share trails with mountain bicyclists, the trail design differences can become somewhat more pronounced. However, good trail planning and design, and good trail-user etiquette, can reduce almost all of the factors that can produce trail user conflicts and the need to change any significant trail design elements.

When existing trails have not been planned or designed to accommodate the speed of mountain bikes or the size, weight, and turning radius of horses and mules, trail re-design and realignments are often the best approaches to an overall well-designed trail for both mountain bike and equestrian trail users. The design and development of good trail sightlines become one of the most important design elements to incorporate into the overall design of these shared trails. Of course, bridges that are designed for hiking and biking may not be designed to safely carry the weight, size and provide the railings required for equestrian use.

Due to mountain bike speeds, the turning radii and the slight slope or the "bank" of switchbacks and climbing turns need to increase to accommodate these higher speeds. These designs accommodating faster trail user speeds do not negatively affect equestrians; in fact, the bigger the turning radius, the more comfortable for the much larger equine, especially pack stock. The climbing turns and switchbacks do have the effect of slowing mountain bicyclists on downhill runs, and that can be considered a positive safety factor to other trail users.

Horses and mules have greater endurance for longer periods of time when trail grades average less than a 15% incline, and there is nothing more frustrating to an equestrian than having to stop a long line of pack stock animals on a trail system to rest tired and over-extended animals. The stopping and starting activity bunches the animals up, and can turn the animals different directions on the trail, making the overall trail stopping and resting experience time consuming and stressful for riders and their animals.

The characteristics of most poorly designed trails become evident when the grades of trails increase. Trail grades exceeding 15% invite degradation of the trail and the environment, especially when considering the bracing action of horses’ and mules’ hooves going down an incline, or the driving action of the hind hooves on inclines, which can disturb or impact the natural surface of a trail. The action of braking and turning mountain bikes can also produce somewhat similar trail surface disturbance. In fact, all trail users, especially in large numbers, have a detrimental effect on our nation’s trail systems if they are not well-maintained, and the public’s use of wet trails truly endangers the health of the outdoor environment and increases the frequency of trail maintenance required for any trail system. Realizing this, well-designed trails for both equestrian and mountain bike use will utilize climbing turns and switchbacks to reduce the potential for trail degradation.

And finally, across America, trail system locations are adding “challenge runs” for mountain bicyclists, which are small, very condensed acreage sites usually located adjacent to trailhead parking and staging areas. These sites are designed to provide a place where mountain bicyclists can test their skills at various speeds, different grades, and use added bike challenge amenities that create a great opportunity for bicyclists who want to learn how to handle their bikes at higher speeds and develop their mountain biking skills (special use skate parks come to mind as a typical skills model). This type of trail opportunity is frequently all some mountain bicyclists desire, and the long distance mountain biker also has the opportunity to enjoy the more extensive shared-use trail system at the same site location.

 

Q. What do equestrians expect from OHV recreationists? How should OHV operators pass horseback riders?

Most trails in our nation are designed to not mix designated non-motorized with motorized trail use because of safety concerns. Most equestrians and their animals are familiar with OHV’s— in fact, many horses and mules happily associate 3- and 4-wheel vehicles with their dinner— that’s how a lot of hay is delivered to them across America!

On trails, OHV’s are often heard before they are seen; therefore, riders and their animals are alerted to the presence of an OHV trail user before approaching each other on a trail. The sound of an OHV engine should be made acceptable to trail equines; it is the rider’s responsibility to acclimate his or her animal to OHV noise. OHV operators must be informed, through proper education, that their speed and movement are potentially going to startle an animal, particularly if visibility is hindered.

Trail etiquette behaviors and safety factors dictate that OHV operators should slow to a stop when encountering equestrians on trails. OHV operators should SPEAK to the equestrians because this can calm a horse or mule. Most trail riding equines like hearing the human voice— again, we feed them— so a friendly verbal exchange between OHV users and equestrians can quickly determine who is going where on the trail, and each user group can proceed with a greater comfort level.

The second part of your question is relatively easy to answer; when possible, OHV operators should stop and pull their vehicle to the edge of the trail so equestrians can either move over or go around a stopped OHV they encounter on a trail. OHV operators should not have to stop the engines on their OHV’s to permit equestrians to pass or go around them, unless the equestrian politely asks them to do so because of their safety concerns. An OHV user should quietly and slowly throttle up and proceed only after equestrians are 30-50 feet away.

 

Q. So as not to damage the frog on a horse, what size gravel do you recommend for horse trails?

[The frog is a part of the underside of a horse's hoof, which normally touches the ground if the horse is standing on soft footing.] The most equine-friendly trail tread surfaces are sieved fines approximately minus 1⁄4 inch +/- (4.75 mm) crushed rock materials or other crushed fines such as decomposed granite, limestone, dolomite, or combinations of soils of this consistency. In areas requiring greater soil stability due to displacement susceptibility, such as sand, a mix of soils with larger sieved approximately minus 5/8” +/- (16 mm) gravel, cinders, or other material, the guidelines for trail purposes are truly varied depending on the natural soil conditions in the trail tread. Soils with a high amount of clay will build up on an animal’s hooves, so some type of mitigating material, such as sand, cinders or pea gravel, can be introduced if there are no environmental concerns to be considered.

Larger gravel rocks, such as those often found at trailheads, need to be approximately less than 3⁄4” – 1-inch (19 -25 mm) in size, as it is the rocks larger than this can become trapped between the frog and the hardened hoof. Even larger rocks can become trapped or wedged in the hoof or in the open area of the horseshoe at the back area of the hoof. Therefore, the most comfortable and least damaging trail tread and trailhead surface materials are rounded, crushed fines and rocks.

The most damaging tread surface to the frog of an equine’s hoof is the continuous presence of sharp, angular rocks and stones exceeding approximately 2 inches (50 mm) and larger in size, especially when an equine is forced to use this type of tread surface over long distances exceeding several miles or more, which can cause stone bruising of the frog.

For more tread surface information, and helpful tables that detail many more tread surface materials, please see Chapter 6 and Tables 6-1 and 6-2 in the “Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads, and Campgrounds.”

Following these tables are sections titled “Natural Materials” and “Aggregate and Similar Surface Materials,” on pages 98-104, providing detailed information about the surface materials that are either horse-friendly or not. It's a very good reference for all trail planners, designers, builders and maintainers. There is also a nice list in the sidebar on page 99 that details of all the soil classification systems that define the screens and sieves listed in the answer to your question above.

 

Q. Why are the trails for carts only just wide enough for the two carts? Shouldn’t there be a few safety inches in between the two cart wheels?

The answer to your question is YES, an 8-foot wide trail for two carts passing each other or for two-horse carriages would be much more user-friendly if it were more than the minimum of 8 feet in width. Carts, carriages, and wagons are built in many sizes, so 4 feet is an average width, and most single horse carts are actually only 44 inches wide. An average tread width of 10-12 feet would minimally suffice in most trail environments for single-horse and cart use, and one horse sleighs would also require greater than a single horse 4-foot width to allow for the width of the sleigh runners. I will refer you to the much more detailed information found in the “Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads, and Campgrounds” on pages 58 and 59 and Figure 4- 7.

 

Q. At what height should bridges begin to use railings? Is it similar to human use: 36" off the water or surface below? "Bull rails" for all others?

All equines are extremely uncomfortable when walking on bridges until they become familiar with them, and horses are very susceptible to fear caused by the sound and the vibrations created by the potential deflection of one or more animals on a bridge deck due to the animal’s weight. Therefore, considering the safety of both the rider and the equine, it is always preferable to provide a 54-inch or higher horizontal railing to keep the animal on the bridge.

Vibrations can range between 80 Hz and 300 Hz spectral energy on wooden bridges, for instance. When combining the vibrations with the sound of hooves on a bride, especially with multiple animals on the bridge at the same time, the effect can make horses and mules uncomfortable, sensing danger.

Even turnpikes, puncheons, and boardwalks just several inches above wet or boggy areas are disliked by horses and mules. (Because nearly every technique for repairing trails in boggy areas is expensive and needs to be repeated periodically, relocating the problem section of trails for equestrian use should be considered first. Using geosynthetics in combination with these techniques can result in a better tread with less fill, or rock armoring is applicable in some areas where hardened trails are needed.)

A trail bridge is frequently required in situations where long spans will be high above the ground for crossing streams, bridging deep canyons, or crossing over roadways, so equestrians in both backcountry and frontcountry trail riding environments need to familiarize their animals with bridged crossings, to both the vibrations and sounds created by the animal(s) on the bridge. All bridges require special designs fitted to each type of use. Structural engineering approval is needed before constructing either a standard or specially designed bridge to assure the strength of the bridge to accept the weight of multiple equines on the bridge, as would be the case with a group of riders or a string of pack stock.

Bridges for motorized vehicles are generally required to have vehicle curbs, “bull rails,” or other effective barriers at least six inches (15.24 cm) in height, which are usually provided at the waterside edges of aprons and bulkheads, except where vehicles are prohibited. Curbs or “bull rails” installed after October 3, 1983, and meeting AASHTO standards are required to be at least 10 inches (25.4 cm) in height.

Bull rails at 10 inches in height would not be a very effective barrier or deterrent to an equine determined to get off of a bridge; therefore, any bridge intended for use by equestrians or carts with horses, for the safety of both the riders and animals, would require horizontal railings at a minimum of 54-inches in height, regardless of the topography and character of the bridge environment.

 

Q. For a horse to use a rubber sole boot for rocky ground or paved surfaces, do the metal horse shoes have to be removed first?

The “rubber boots” used on horses are designed to be put on the horse’s hooves over the metal horseshoes, however there are manufacturers who also provide “boots” for unshod horses as well, which are designed to replace metal horseshoes that serve as protection from chipping, cracking, or bruising an animal’s hooves and frog. Additionally, most equestrians carry one or more “boots” with them while trail riding in case their horse loses a horseshoe, because the continuous stress on the horse without a shoe on one hoof throws off the balance of the animal, just like it would a human without one shoe, so horse boots have more than one purpose. Mules’ hooves are generally narrower than horses’ hooves and the design of the “boot” is just like human shoes, they are manufactured in a variety of different sizes.

 

Q. What is ribbon curbing made of and how does it hold loose materials?

Ribbon curbing is frequently used in frontcountry and equestrian staging areas where lot sizes are one or more acres and where roadways are frequently unpaved. The ribbon curbing is almost always constructed with concrete in approximately 40-foot sections in length. This type of curbing is very horse- friendly because it is generally only 6-12-inches wide and has a very minimal height profile, and is flush with the roadway or parking area surface and rises slightly at a gentle slope. The roadway material, whether paved or unpaved crushed fines, is contained within the edges of the ribbon curbing that is generally constructed 4-6 inches in depth, as shown in the drawing example from the specifications found in the Seguin, Texas roadway design standards (download pdf of drawing).

For additional concrete edging detail information in the “Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads, and Campgrounds,” please see Figure 9-8.

 

Q. How do you know the carrying capacity of a trail? Or, how many horses can be on a trail without damaging it?

The "carrying capacity" of a trail is now more often described as the "limits of acceptable change". Research and literature identifies four distinct types of carrying capacity:

(1) ecological (eg. vegetation, wildlife, soils)
(2) social (eg. the perception of crowding)
(3) spatial or physical (eg. ability of hilly forested terrain to absorb the number of users)
(4) facility (design capacity, eg. parking lot)

The recreational carrying capacity of a trail can be defined as: "The level of use an area (trail) can withstand while providing a sustained quality of recreation." Recreation carrying capacity is:

Considering the "Limits of Acceptable Change" Approach:

The Limits of Acceptable Change (L.A.C.) approach used can be adapted from the British Columbia Forest Service Training Manual (Rutledge, 1992) and the work of the U.S. Forest Service. The L.A.C. approach may be suitable for a range of park planning and design projects, but it can be described as a way to help protect park resources and maintain high quality recreation experiences on park trails.

The "limits of acceptable" (LAC) change approach can be defined as the following:

In summary, this is a rather detailed reply, yet I feel this information provides a great outline for trail planners, designers, builders, maintenance personnel and land managers’ concerns, because if we work together to create trails that work well for all users, we have an outstanding template for what trail managers can do at the front end to help mitigate trail capacity limitations so more trails are open to more users, more frequently.

Q. What are some best management practices for repairing braided trails?

As we’ve covered together in this webinar, braided trails are truly a major environmental issue, particularly trails located in our nation’s open-spaces, greenways and many, many backcountry areas. We must first recognize that a huge number of braided trails already exist, so intervention and maintenance repairs must come to the rescue!

I think we all pretty much understand how braided trails occur: trail users and wildlife often stop following an existing trail tread because it is either (1) eroded or devoid of comfortable trail tread material; (2) filled with blocking rocks and other debris; (3) trenched; and (4) more difficult to travel than the area on either side of the existing trail, such as instances when the existing trail is depressed or trenched and is filled with mud, water, ice or packed, hardened snow.

Now, to your specific question, what are the best management practices for repairing braided trails?

Most braided trails exist because the trail grade exceeds 12-15% or more and is often constructed on the fall line of a trail exhibiting this degree of incline or greater. There are an enormous number of beautiful trails that were created by forest firefighters who were doing their best to clear a pathway to reach an emergency situation to control forest or grasslands fires, basically the straightest, quickest line from point A to point B, usually from the bottom to the top of a hill or ridge. Big wildlife animals and open range animals quickly selected many of these human-created trails as their routes of least resistance, and a large number of trail users also followed these trails because they can reach their destination quickly and efficiently. Soon these pathways became water ways down slopes; following the path of least resistance, carrying away the top soils on pathways.

The absolute best ways to repair and reduce the degradation of braided trail surfaces and the resulting loss of topsoils from watershed areas is to mitigate the problem through the construction of trail reroutes, climbing turns, switchbacks, grade reversals, trail benches and outslopes, rolling contour dips, and building rock and vegetative swales that help slow the velocity of water runoff on slopes above existing and new trails, and then revegetate, obliterate or fill in the damaged braided trail areas in a sustainable manner.

Volunteers and professional trail builders to the rescue! Trail maintenance management and construction repairs training and education programs (offered through American Trails, the National Trails Training Partnership, and many trail building organizations and youth crews) are readily available. With professional planning and a well-organized list of critical, prioritized areas that have numerous braided trails already in existence, the biggest problems can be resolved. It takes focused, determined effort to accomplish this goal, but our nation has proven itself ready to take volunteer and professional action against braided trails with the best leadership coming from federal, state, county and local land managers, in concert with professional landscape architects and civil engineers, when required.

Once the trail braiding mitigation phase has been completed, a well-planned maintenance program must be implemented to keep on top of Mother Nature and a wide variety of human and wildlife trail users to insure these labor-intensive repairs are sustained for user group safety and protection of the environment.

 

Q. What is the single most common mistake you see in equestrian trail design?

With user safety as the standard, I would have to answer this question with naming the lack of visibility as a number one cause of trail accidents and conflicts. If you cannot see the danger approaching, especially if you are riding a live 1,000- pound animal, your reaction time to prepare for a spook by your horse or mule is truly compromised.

Undoubtedly a close second is the lack of professional trail planning and design through a deficiency of knowledge or trail user information about how to successfully accommodate equestrians on our nation’s trail systems. I like to remind trail planners and land managers that equestrians currently contribute over $100 billion annually in the nation’s equine industry, and pay nearly $2 billion in taxes, and that really doesn’t take into account all of the gasoline taxes equestrians pay to transport their animals to trail destinations all around the nation.

In a sense, equestrians in America, per capita, have contributed their fair share of taxes to the trail and recreation community. With this in mind, equestrians need to be involved in helping public land managers, as well as trail planners and designers, make the best use of these dollars, through active involvement in all things trails... attending trail planning meetings, developing partnerships with all other trail users, and either volunteering or contributing dollars to nonprofit trail building and maintenance organizations.

I see a lot of this partnering between trail users and land managers not happening in America in all my travels and my work with land managers, trail planners and designers. How can we expect to have the world’s best planned, designed, and successful equestrian-friendly trails without knowledge and input from equestrian trail users in their own local areas? I’ve now stepped down off my soap box!

 

Q. Jan, I understand that you have travelled around the world enjoying and writing about equestrian trails. What other countries have you found to be especially creative in good equestrian trail or trailhead design? Do you have a favorite example to share with us?

During my webinar presentation I singled out Chile in South America, England and the Nordic regions in Europe, Australia, Canada, and Oregon, right here in our great USA! I could readily add New Zealand, as well as Germany, France and Spain to wonderful European riding locations. These international countries have alluring destinations, and some also have beautiful equestrian trail riding recreational facilities.

Many trails in other nations are located on private land, and these locations do provide many unique cultural trail riding opportunities with indigenous horses. Unfortunately many of these countries are not as focused on the planning and design elements of trails and trailheads as America.

What really does stand out about these international destinations is their country’s commitment to their equestrians. They recognize the value of horses to their nation’s identity, and they have embraced recreational trail riding and all types of horse events and other equine-related activities as part of their nation’s culture. (Famed worldwide equestrian Olympians also ride on trails, too!)

Americans are fortunate to have an extensive network of professional land managers at all levels of government in the United States who have developed and adhere to fairly comprehensive trail, trailhead and campground planning and design guidelines for public lands in America, although these often do not include planning and design guidelines for equestrians trail users.

Many international countries are reaching out to American Trails for the plethora of excellent educational information, symposiums, and science-based trail and trailhead design guidelines that form the basis of all the resources available from American Trails; hence the name change in 2013 from the National Trails Symposium to the International Trails Symposium.

My special mention of Oregon in the webinar is related to the high number of well-designed statewide equestrian trail, trailhead and campground facilities that offer equestrian-friendly trailheads and campgrounds locations that have installed mounting ramps and other amenities to assist persons with disabilities. The Oregon Equestrian Trails organization, Oregon Horse Country, PATH International, the Adaptive Riding Institute, and so many spirited, dedicated land managers have partnered together to create some of the nation’s most successful equestrian trails, trailheads and campgrounds. If you’ve not been there, put Oregon trail riding on your bucket list!

 

Q. Can you comment on the often-expressed concerns about horse manure on our nation’s trails?

Horses are basically grass and hay munching machines, and manure is the byproduct of the digestion of a variety of vegetative grasses that is rich in nitrogen. Manure biodegrades in the outdoor trails environment rather quickly and naturally, and unlike the manure of animals that eat meat, or chew a cud, there really is no scientific evidence of harmful impacts to humans or the land environment from horse manure. Numerous scientific studies at top universities validate this. In fact, horse manure is prized the world over for its beneficial, natural fertilizer properties for organic gardens, flower growers, mushroom farms, plant nurseries, golf courses and more. Some brilliant person will eventually come up with a million dollar way to make a fortune with horse manure.... anything’s possible if we process, sell and eat seaweed....

I should note here that environmentally the are a very few watershed areas around the nation where horse manure can be carried by wind, precipitation, or snow melt into bodies of standing water, such as ponds and lakes. Under the right weather conditions, the presence of the enriching nitrogen found in horse manure can have a very limited nutritional effect as a potential fertilizer for a few types of seasonal water algae blooms in these types of locations. Overall, wild animals, livestock and birds, as well as humans and their pets, deposit much larger amounts of their waste in our wildlands and open space, and on trails than do equestrians.

Although I readily admit some bias, as an equestrian, I also want to take the high road position of neutrality in this topic, and offer some additional thoughts:

 

Q. The twine on bales of hay also does damage to mowing equipment, etc.

Yes, discarded and unmanaged hay twine is an enemy in any environment.

 

Q. What should be the minimum distance from an equestrian trail to a picnic shelter?

Because of the potential for a lot of activity at a picnic area, human movement and sounds are generally involved, so naturally the equine’s eyes, ears and other senses will pick up this activity and alert the animal to an "‘area of danger" of high interest. The built environment picnic shelter surrounded by the natural environment will also draw the attention of a horse. It will probably appear "out of place" to the animal. When we match architectural forms, materials, colors, textures, and finishes with the surrounding setting and climate, we help horses accept the sight of these built elements in the natural environment.

Blowing wind can carry napkins, paper plates, paper and plastic bags, table covers and other picnic shelter items into the trail corridor, which can be problematic to equestrians and their animals as well. Human voices at a picnic area will, however, help mitigate the fear factor for horses.

In regard to the relationship of horse activity on trails that could create possible dust and manure adjacent to a picnic shelter or picnic table area, it is always preferable to reduce the potential of offensive dust, odors and insects on trails that may encroach on a dining facility or area.

The guidelines and drawings of equestrian camp units can provide helpful measurements and facility guidelines for the location of site furnishings, such as a picnic table, a grill, and a fire ring. These amenities should be a minimum of at least 4 feet (1.2 meters) away from the edge of outdoor living areas and from each other in campsites, with preferred 5-7 feet distances from each other if space allows. Ideally, triple that space (15 - 20 feet or 1.5 – 2.1 m) would be preferable for trails located adjacent to picnic shelters, for the comfort of all. For more detailed information regarding picnic units, please see pages 168 – 172, drawing figures 1-12 and 9-15, and photographs 9-13 and 9-14 in the “Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads, and Campgrounds.”

 

Q. Can we share all this great information from the webinar with others?

It is really important to me that you make the information in the webinar, as well as the questions and answers, available to as many people as possible. The lThe more we can do to “forward” these webinar resources to others makes everything we do at American Trails and the National Trails Training Partnership just that much more valuable!

In particular, let people know that the book, Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads, and Campgrounds, is available as a free resource. Anyone interested in the design of trails and related facilities, no matter what kinds of trail activities they are most interested in, will find it a valuable reference.

Digital copy:

This book is available online in full color at the Federal Highway Administration's publications page

There are no copyrights! You can cut and paste any photographs, drawings, tables, or text from the online version of this book to use when creating specifications, RFQs, RFPs, or doing bid proposals, etc.

Print copy:

FREE printed black and white copy of this 312-page book is available from FHWA (FREE shipping in the US):

The book is publication  # 0723-2816-MTDC. (Listed alphabetically under the book title - Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads, and Campgrounds.  Limit is one copy per address per each online order. Multiple copies available upon request.)

 

More about Jan Hancock on the American Trails website:

 

 


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