Lora Goerlich, American Trails contributor and equestrian expert, shares trail etiquette around horse manure.
Trail apples - the organic, naturally beneficial, digested balls of vegetation that host nourishing insect meals for birds and game fowl while also providing valuable minerals for butterflies, moths and dragonflies. On unimproved trail tread, manure will break down in about two weeks with a little help from sun, rain, dung beetles and foraging birds. AND unlike tacky, foul-smelling human or dog feces (which are more frequently found trailside) horse manure is not considered hazardous or toxic and carries no pathogens of concern.
Manure on trails, at staging areas and camp sites is unavoidable. Knowing when to take it or leave it can be confusing for both equestrians and non-equestrians. Additionally, park agencies may not understand what to expect from riders and haven’t established or posted clear guidelines. Unless otherwise posted, the standards listed below are appropriate expectations for riders:
Horse manure at parking areas
1. Trailer manure – take it home, do not toss trailer manure into the woods, fields, parking lots and definitely do not pile it around the base of trees.
2. Grass or dirt parking lot - horse has a bowel movement while tied to a hitching post or while tied to your trailer and there is grass or soil beneath their hooves, leave it but consider spreading it out.
3. Gravel parking lot - horse has a bowel movement while tied to a hitching post or while tied to your trailer and there is gravel beneath their hooves, take the manure home.
4. Paved parking lots – take manure home; hopefully there aren’t many concrete or asphalt parking areas for trail riders since they tend to be slippery which can create unnecessary hazards.
5. Manure bin is provided - use it. Manure bins at day use areas are not as common as they are at equestrian campgrounds.
Horse manure on natural trail tread even if the trail is shared
1. Leave it - in about two weeks it will breakdown benefitting birds, game fowl and insects during decomposition.
2. At trailside rest stops - scatter piles with your foot before remounting.
Horse manure at camp sites
1. Authorized manure bin or bunker is available - use it. Meticulously remove all the manure and uneaten hay where your horse was kept.
2. No collection bin - load all manure into your horse trailer or muck buckets; plan ahead, bring extra muck buckets then take it home and add it to your own manure pile. On average for 1 horse + 2 nights camping = 1 mucket bucket full.
3. Back country (wilderness) camping and packing on USDA land - Forest Service guidelines require removal or scattering.
Horse manure on shared-paved trails does not break down as fast as it would on natural tread (dirt, sand, clay) These trails are often linear, somewhat narrow rail trails, frequently used by cyclists, inline skaters, walkers with or without dogs and/or strollers.
In an effort to assist meticulous equestrians, park personnel might consider strategic placement of mounting blocks in high use areas along paved trails for those who cannot remount from the ground. Mounting blocks can be as simple as a sturdy tree trunk section; a pre-fabricated molded rubber step; or as elaborate as a park approved permanent structure.
Additional considerations from my thirty years of park and riding experiences - Riders are usually aware when their horse makes trail deposit, especially if their horse stops to do its business, the sound of manure landing on pavement is hard to miss. Is it really a big deal to leave manure on paved trails? Yes, it is a “big deal”. The greenish brown, heaping piles are repulsive to non-equestrians, not to mention someone else must clean up after you. Even when manure on paved/multiuse trails is rare, it aggravates cyclists the most, who, in turn, rally against equestrians when complaints are lodged about dangerous cyclist behavior around horses. Common sense tells us that comparing manure on trails to dangerous cyclist behavior is illogical; they are entirely unrelated issues. Unfortunately, non-equestrians often prevail when this argument (often heated) arises, potentially leading to exclusion in new and existing trail opportunities for horse riders.
Published March 2021