Understanding Equestrian Use of Highways and Bicycle/Pedestrian Facilities

By Denise Maxwell, Illinois Trail Riders

Federal transportation laws and regulations do not prohibit the use of shared use paths or trails by equestrians.


According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, (AASHTO Task Force on geometric design. Guide for the development of bicycle facilities P.59 1999):

"It is usually not desirable to mix horse riding and bicycle traffic on the same shared use path. Bicyclists are often not aware of the need for slower speeds and additional operating space near horses. Horses can be startled easily and may be unpredictable if the perceive approaching bicyclists as a danger. In addition, pavement requirements for bicycle travel are not suitable for horses. For these reasons, a bridle trail separate from the shared use path is recommended to accommodate horses."

AASHTO's statement is true, but the reality is that equestrians, like bicyclists and pedestrians, do need to use transportation corridors. Equestrians would prefer the safety of a Shared Use Path or a separate bridle trail in the verge, to the open roadway teeming with speeding cars, large trucks, and motorcycles. AASHTO needs to Soften Language on Shared Use and provide alternatives or resources for accommodating various trail users in an effort to keep us all safe.

Illinois Trail Riders is concerned that motorists and law enforcement officers are not aware that horses have road rights. Many riders live in areas where there are no trails. Often they do not have access to a trailer and are forced to ride along road shoulders and cross busy roads to get to their favorite riding place. As responsible riders, we must take all action necessary, including education, to insure that safe places are provided for the pleasure and trail rider. When riding along roads, common sense, not legal rights, must be used. Following are the printed rules and regulations covering horses being ridden along roads. Most states have similar laws.

Horses have road rights

625 Illinois Compiled Statutes 5/11-206

Para. 11-206: Traffic laws apply to persons riding animals or driving animal-drawn vehicles. Every person riding an animal or driving any animal-drawn vehicle upon a roadway shall be granted all the rights and shall be subject to all the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter, except those provisions of this chapter which by their very nature can have no application.

Rules of the Road published by the Illinois Secretary of State, states:

Horseback riders may use our public roadways. Exceptions are limited-access highways and most expressways. Here are points for motorists to keep in mind when sharing the road with a horseback rider.

LANE USAGE: Horseback riders must ride with traffic as far to the right as possible.

SUDDEN NOISES: Never sound a horn when you are near a horse. The sound might frighten it and cause an accident.

APPROACH: When meeting or passing a horseback rider, do so with caution and be prepared to stop.

Rules of the Road also gives specific requirements for emblems, lights, and lane usage for vehicles drawn by animals and other slow-moving vehicles.

The Rules of the Road booklet is available at any driver's licensing facility.

Federal Highway Administration clarifies horse use on shared use paths

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has publicly clarified that "Equestrians and other nonmotorized recreational use may be allowed on shared use paths and trails that use Federal-aid transportation funds." FHWA posted language on its website specifically addressing equestrians on shared-use paths. They posted the policy to point out that there is no prohibition on equestrian use.

This notice is a positive step forward in acknowledging equestrian activity on public land. Because equestrians are not specifically listed as potential users of shared-use transportation paths many riders believe that some land mangers use this to deny equestrians access to these paths, even though that is not the intent of the federal law.

The FHWA notice encourages trail management practices to serve a wide variety of trail users, including equestrians. This philosophy of trail sharing should extend to other trail projects using Federal-aid highway program funds.


FHWA position

Equestrian and other nonmotorized recreational use may be allowed on shared use paths and trails that use Federal-aid transportation funds. Federal transportation laws and regulations do not prohibit the use of shared use paths or trails by equestrians, in-line skaters, cross country skiers, snowshoe users, or other nonmotorized users. Various design options may allow equestrian use, such as providing both a paved path and an unpaved path within the same right-of-way.



Published December 31, 2007

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