The Trail Wars have Begun

Trail wars created by manure

In the town next to mine, a rail trail recently opened — and now the trail wars have begun. With non-essential business and schools closed, traffic on all the trails has increased significantly. My daughter and I walked a couple of miles on this section of the rail-trail last week and decided it was a bit too crowded for our tastes — full of cyclists, scooters and walkers — but it’s a nice flat surface and ideal for getting out of your house.

Well, we must have just missed the horse poop which has residents up in arms. On my local “Next Door” site, a local posted a photography of the trail with a smattering of manure and a message to horse owners.

Trail wars began with this message
I would have had more sympathy for this woman if she hadn’t patted herself on the back for being “pretty tolerant” of the horses on the trail. It’s a multi-use trail with horses specifically allowed per Massachusetts Rail Trail regulations.
Trail wars created by manure
It’s amazing that such a small amount of manure could cause such distress. Honestly, had I seen it, I would have just kicked it off to the side. Problem solved..

Lots of people don’t understand horse manure — they associate it with the mess left behind by dogs, and don’t realize that horse poop is relatively “clean” and breaks down quickly. To them it’s something they don’t want on the bottom of their shoes or on their kids’ bicycle wheels.

They also don’t really understand that it’s impractical for many people to dismount and clean up the manure. Some of us are simply too old and stiff to get on our large horses without help; some horses would be too upset by the bikes, baby carriages and scooters to stand still enough to remount. When I’ve asked for permission to ride up someone’s driveway to access a trail I’ve always agree to remove the manure should it be required (luckily, Zelda and Freedom usually don’t deposit their gifts mid-ride). I also clean up manure in parking lots or on public roads whenever I can.

What residents of the town have conveniently forgotten, is that this new trail abuts miles of carriage and horse trails in the nearby forest where many people have ridden for decades. Until the rail-trail was built (over strenuous objections from the residents), we would sometimes ride down the abandoned track bed to access the trails into the woods. Now, those riders must use the rail-trail.

Trail Wars: A voice of reason
Posts by equestrians — like this one — were not well received on the forum. Most people rallied around the initial poster, considering the manure to be “icky” and did not want birds and animals coming onto the trail to clean it up. I guess we should post that local wildlife should keep their droppings on the side of the trail, too.

One person suggested attaching a bag under the horses’ tails to catch the manure before it hits the ground. There are manure bags, designed for working horses, but I can’t imagine having one of those flopping along on your horse’s butt. That might cause a bit more excitement than the manure itself.

Catch it Manure Bag
The Catch It Manure bag might work, but I don’t think it’s compatible with a brisk gallop through the woods.

Personally, I will avoid the rail-trails while they are such a popular destination. But it behooves (pun intended) all trail users to be both respectful and tolerant of each other. Sharing trails may not provide the ideal trail experience for every user, every day – walkers and cyclists may need to step around an occasional manure pile (there’s little risk of manure covering the entire trail as some people suggested), bikers may have to slow down and announce their presence to other users, and equestrians will have to train their horses to tolerate fast-moving cyclists, joggers with baby carriages, scooters and running children. In most cases, it is worth the price to have more trails to enjoy.

What many people don’t realize is that equestrians play a very large role in maintaining the trails in communities. We are the ones clearing debris, maintaining the footing, and keeping them clear. Our hunt club, for example, maintains the trails on all of our fixtures, keeping the trails open for many other types of users.

In the meantime, if you see manure on a trail and it’s easy for you to remove, do your part to maintaining harmony and kick it to the side.

6 thoughts on “The Trail Wars have Begun

  1. *sigh* People are feeling SO entitled and icked out by the simplest things. Horse poop is not an icky thing, as for example dog poop. I’m a responsible dog owner, so I always clean up after my dog. And if I come across a doodoo on the walkway with no responsible owner in sight, I often clean that up too, as to mitigate the already dog hating public.
    If I came across horse manure on my walks, and had the ability to take it, I would. Perfect food for roses. 🙂

  2. The frightening thing about the people who get all freaked out by horse manure is that sometimes, they have the connections to get a trail shut down, or at least banned for horses. Several years ago, a couple who owned a large piece of property in Rainier, WA, turned their land into a three day eventing facility. Mind you, they owned the land, and had for a long time. An abandoned railroad track ran across the back part of it. They gave the Rails to Trails organization permission to pull up the tracks and turn it into a nice trail. The owners very kindly gave the public permission to use it. Their only caveat was that people would have to yield to horses crossing it during events. (they put up cones and Do NOt Cross Tape as well as a person wearing a dayglo vest to manage the crossing)
    Well, I’m sure you can see where this is going. A few people got freaked out by Horses! Going Fast! Right at them while they were walking their effing little purse dogs! It Wasn’t Safe!! One of them had some deep pocketed legislative connections and and ultimately got the entire facility shut down.
    All it takes is one freak with a control issue to ruin things for a whole lot of other people.

  3. I purposely didn’t check to figure out the location of the trail mentioned in the article. I am a rails to trails user of a trail on which horse traffic is allowed along with walkers and cyclists. The trail is approximately 20 years old and the base is well settled for the most part, however, horse hooves leave hoof prints in the trail surface which harden and create a bumpy surface until the trail becomes moist again and the hoof prints flatten out. I, too, have encountered piles of horse manure on the trails I use. To me, it is littering just like my tossing my empty water bottles on the trail or not cleaning up after my dogs on the trail or anywhere I might take them. Sure, horses are allowed on many multi-use trails and some have a grass strip alongside the trail exclusively for horses. A few even have hiker/biker/horse rider campsites along the way. As a proponent and practitioner of the Leave No Trace principles I firmly believe in cleaning up after oneself. Many people do a lot of good things to help maintain trails and other recreational areas but few take advantage of their volunteerism to leave their litter along the way. Please rethink your position which attempts to rationalize why people like me should kick your horse manure aside as I navigate the trail. For one, I respect your right to use a trail where allowed and I, as most cyclists will, slow down to avoid spooking a horse that could cause great harm if it were to be out of control. While I try to respect riders, I wonder how willing you would be to clean my shoes and bike tires should I come in contact with your horse’s manure on the trail. I would be willing to wait until you finish your ride so you wouldn’t be troubled to dismount and remount you’re steed.

    1. You have a very balanced viewpoint and are (I’m afraid) more courteous than many of the cyclists I’ve encountered while riding. While some, like you, are willing to slow down or stop, I’ve had the misfortune of being surrounded by a pod of cyclists (about 20) on a small country road, and wondered which of us might die as my thoroughbred tried to choose between kicking or bolting. I’ve also had cyclists come up behind me at speed and pass within a foot of my horse, not just road bikes but also on mountain bikes on “horse trails.” Most of these people were simply ignorant of how to share the trails safely with horses.

      But, back to your point. It is a conundrum. For some riders it is difficult to mount/dismount from the ground, especially on a busy trail. The specific trail that I referenced is new, less than a year old. For people who rode on the unpaved rail bed for decades, that is the only way to get to the horse trails that abutt the rail trail. Should that person be able to come back and clean off their manure, probably. We don’t know that they didn’t.

      Personally, I always clean up if my horse leaves manure on a public road or on a neighbor’s land. That’s just common courtesy. Most likely, I will not get off and do it then, because after I got broken in an accident two years ago, I have a lot of trouble mounting from the ground, but I return. I would gladly kick the manure from someone else’s horse off the trail if I saw it and if I see manure on the road near where my horses live, I always remove it. In a multi-use trail we all need to look after each other.

  4. I, too, see that you are more courteous than most cyclists.

    In my region, a large natural area is partitioned into ‘sports’…one area is solely for hunters, one only for hiking (no dogs, but no one obeys that), one area solely for Off Road vehicles, one for motorized dirt bikes, one for non motorized bicycles and one for horses. We ROUTINELY are challenged by boys on the trail bikes? trespassing on the trails designated for horses ONLY.

    Their bikes tear the trails up because they aren’t happy with just sticking to the trail, no, they have to go OFF. We’ve even caught them digging up the forest to make ramps to jump their bikes from and sometimes, cutting down trees that are in their way. When we horsemen say, oh, this is for horses only, we’re sneered at, flipped off, told to go eff our selves, and mostly, they whine, ‘well, our trails are all torn up!” Well DUH?
    I don’t see the hikers cleaning up after their dogs, or even themselves. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen banana peels, pistachio nut hulls and orange peels left by hikers on equestrian trails.
    And more often than I care to say, when driving, I’ve had bicyclists drive in MY lane, despite the fact that there is a designated bike lane to the right. That and they seem to feel as if that STOP sign doesn’t apply to bicyclists.
    I am physically incapable of dismounting my horse in the middle of a trail to pick up his manure. Nor is it wise…the kids on their trail bikes come fast and if they’re behind me and suddenly appear, my horse is going to spook.
    Finally…I’m ranting, I’m sorry, but as a member of the Back Country Horseman Association, I”ve spent hours and hours doing grunt labor…pushing gravel laden wheelbarrows up a rutted trail to repair it, picking up all sorts of garbage and trash, or helping build a bridge over a creek.
    I have never, not ONCE, ever, seen a bicyclist doing anything like that sort of trail maintenance.

Leave a Reply