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.
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.
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.
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.