Trail Etiquette When Mud is Present

Mud season, Mother Nature’s torment to those who seek solace in nature.

by Lora Goerlich, Owner, Equestrian Trails and Facilities Consultant LLC

Mud season, Mother Nature’s torment to those who seek solace in nature. The mixing of excess water and earth occurs periodically from late fall through late spring in many geographic areas across the United States. As trail enthusiasts and natural resource advocates, we must set high standards for trail use accountability when mud is present. Why? To prevent trail widening which damages surrounding flora and fauna, and to prevent park agencies from creating and enforcing, seasonal, blanket trail closures.

No matter how rugged you are while mountain biking, how tested you are as a hiker or how well trained your horse is, feet, hooves, and wheels almost always find a way around mud - especially on sections where the depth of the quagmire is unknown. Cyclists risk colliding with unseen debris concealed in the dark mud and soiling their clothes with a racing stripe up their backside. Hikers risk ruining shoes or having them sucked off along with tripping, slipping, and falling. Most horses (and riders) will attempt to trudge through the center of a mire but are often unsuccessful. Horses don’t mind getting their feet wet, many have mud in their home paddock after rain, but they know their area, they know there is no risk there. A horse’s instinct is to avoid predators who could be lurking in murky areas, their life depends on it. Add to that, inherent dangers such as soft tissue, joint and bone damage from splaying out on unstable footing and/or tripping over submerged hazards such as exposed roots or downed limbs. A tripping, slipping, or falling mount can also cause traumatic injuries for riders as well. Less dangerous but costly are the loss of horseshoes and hoof boots that are frequently pulled off by sucky mud.

photo credit: Lora Goerlich
Mud and standing water

Mud and standing water

Ultimately, it is your obligation to modify your route, or not go at all if you know the tread is not solid enough for your planned activity. Poor choices have forced some agencies to create temporary, seasonal, and permanent trail closures; in Ohio for example, State Forests began blanket closures in 2020 which affected horse, bike, and ATV trails in all but one State Forest. But… shouldn’t the park fix the issues or re-route problem areas? This article is about being a more responsible and mindful trail user, not about trail maintenance. Make choices that keep trails open, create less maintenance for park staff and protect flora and fauna. Inclusion, no matter the type, is a privilege.

About the Author

Lora’s parks and recreation career spans thirty-two years; twenty-five years she served as a dedicated law-enforcement/maintenance ranger at Metroparks of Toledo. Add to that her formal schooling in two distinct areas – environmental studies/resource management and equestrian studies. Work, education and personal experience have woven together seamlessly to create a uniquely qualified, neutral horse trail expert/consultant and author with a profound knowledge and understanding of recreational equestrian needs; sustainable trail planning and maintenance in natural areas; law enforcement issues and strategies; community involvement; best practice horse keeping; equine behavior; customer service; volunteerism; natural resource management; mounted patrol operations and multi-use-trail conflict resolution.

In 2011 she began sharing her expertise at park conferences including: The National Parks and Recreation Congress, Ohio Parks and Recreation Conference, American Trails Symposium and The Park Ranger Institute.

Lora has been a trail rider and horse owner since 1986 and has ridden, started and re-schooled a variety of horses in various disciplines. Current trail mounts include a Tennessee Walker gelding and a Warmblood cross, gelding. You might also find her hiking, cycling, kayaking or camping with and without horses.

Contact: [email protected]

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