by Alayne Blickle, Horses for Clean Water
It’s summertime and we’re hitting the trails! Even on the trails there are things we horse owners can do to reduce our impact on the environment and take better care of the land. Here’s some tips to get you started down the right path:
Carry a manure fork in your trailer. At the trailhead take home everything you and your horse brought: manure, old hay and spilled bedding. If possible, throw a bucket of water on urine puddles to help dilute them. Smelly piles of manure and urine attract flies and are not attractive to other trail users.
In the parking area, avoid driving your truck and trailer over vegetation, into sensitive areas or widening parking areas in any way.
Teach and then encourage your horse to keep walking when your horse defecates on the trail. This helps to avoid manure piles and spreads manure out a bit. If a group of riders stops for any length of time and there is a build-up of manure, dismount and kick the manure around to disperse it.
When mud and puddles develop along a trail, teach and encourage your horse to ride through puddles. Riding around these areas widens the trail, destroying more vegetation and creating a muddy quagmire. Cross water bodies single file so as to not widen the area further.
Stay on marked trails and do not cut new trails, switchbacks or corners. Whenever possible ride single file to help keep trails from widening and degrading. Never go off a trail into a sensitive area such as a wetland, bog or marshy meadow. Creating new trails without permission of the landowner can cause those areas to be closed to future use. New trails can’t be maintained and may decrease the amount of maintenance the whole system receives. It also potentially destroys wildlife habitat and may cause erosion and loss of valuable topsoil. When sediments end up in streams, ponds and other water bodies this can cause serious water quality problems.
Avoid tying your horse to a tree or other vegetation if at all possible. Doing so can seriously harm the tree, perhaps even destroy it. If you have to do so, such as during lunch breaks or rest stops, so be sure to look for the sturdiest tree possible or a low hanging branch. Teach your horse to stand quietly, as pawing may damage sensitive tree roots.
Observe wildlife from a distance. Be careful not to stalk or approach wild animals and never feed them. Feeding wildlife damages their health, changes natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers. Dogs should be kept under control at all times, but especially around wildlife. Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young or, for those species that hibernate, in winter.
Invasive weed species in open spaces and wild areas are a huge problem everywhere. Non-native weed seeds are transported in, take root and quickly out-compete native plants. This is a particular problem when wildlife loses critical habitat or food sources, or when toxic weeds move in.
Take care to inspect your horse’s hooves before leaving home to eliminate weed seed transmission. Brush your horse’s coat while still at home to remove potential harmful seeds, particularly if your horse lives in a weedy area. Be sure to remove mud and foreign debris from riding boots as well.
Consider seeking help on how to manage your pastures so you can eliminate, or at least substantially reduce invasive weeds on your property, as well as their spread onto other properties. Contact your local conservation district or your county noxious weed board ( you can locate them through an internet search with your county’s name and the words “conservation district” or “noxious weeds.”) If you live in Puget Sound or around King County, an excellent site to visit is: Noxious weeds in King County, and of course you can always get help right here on the Horses for Clean Water web site.
Trail riding is a healthy, fun activity for both horse and rider. It offers us an opportunity to appreciate the land and its flora and fauna, and it gives your horse new learning experiences as well. How we as equestrians treat the privilege of trail riding determines how well we are able to keep enjoying existing trails, as well as opening up new equestrian trails.