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This page is a repository for Horse Trail "FAQs".

You may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader, a free program, in order to view the pdf files.

Click the picture above to view an informative presentation given at the 2004 Southeastern Equestrian Trails Conference and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's International Conference, Trail Link 2003, June 26-29, 2003. Note: Fast internet connection recommended, this file is a 5-meg pdf.

For a copy of the slides in "handout" format, click here (pdf - only a half meg)

For the accompanying list of reference materials, click here. (pdf - tiny)

Your tax dollars at work: There is a new book out (2008), available FREE from the FHWA - "Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads, and Campgrounds" - this is a project Jan Hancock of Arizona has been working on for nearly ten years. I acted as contributor and reviewer. Order here:

ATVs and Horses on Shared-Use Trails

Who gets to play on a shared-use trail is usually a landowner decision. There is a tendency to prohibit motorized use on trails used by equestrians. However, if the motorized use is minimal, there should not be a major conflict. Neither the equestrians nor the ATVers ride every single day. If this is private land, it is unlikely that ATV users will trailer their machines to ride on your property. If they do, simply posting it as private property should do.

The equestrian user group itself is divided over sharing trails with ATVs. Many horse farms use ATVs (or ATV-like equipment such as the "Gator") on the farm. Very often the machines are used to do heavy chores such as delivering bales of hay to horses in remote pastures, or pulling the manure spreader. They are a less expensive alternative to buying a tractor. Those equestrians who use equipment on their farms usually don't object to seeing ATVs on trails. Their horses are "desensitized" to the machines, that is, they are not at all afraid of them and in fact start looking for the hay bales when the ATVs pass by.

The other contingency may also use the machines on their farms (or their boarding stables use them) but they have an "environmental objection". They claim the noise and smell of the ATV (or other motorized vehicle) destroys their outdoor experience. Unless you have very heavy ATV use (more than one machine per minute passing by), again, this should not be a problem on a shared trail. 

"Safety" is sometimes cited as the reason for prohibiting ATVs from shared trails. "Fear" is more accurate. Riders are afraid of what their horses will do when the ATV comes around the corner at them. The truth is, the rider can hear an ATV coming long before it arrives, and so can the horse. If the rider tenses up anticipating trouble, so will the horse. I guess the riders need to be "desensitized" too. Perhaps a local ATV rider or club could help. Sometimes just knowing more about the other person's sport is all it takes.

In summary, I hope you will reconsider, at least at first, closing your "shared use trail" to ATVs.

Bikes and Horses

Sharing Trails: Horses and Bicycle/Pedestrian Trail Users

Q: We want to preserve horse use along a section of rail trail in South Hero, Vermont. We are getting complaints from trail users that there is horse poop and divots on the trail.  We want to keep horse access but we want to minimize the impacts. What trail policies and efforts have been put in place on trails around the country?

You should know that the section in question is only 12’ wide and has deep culverts that drop off quickly on both sides – so any sort of separate of uses is out of the question.

A:  If the trail is paved and has a grassy shoulder, usually asking equestrians to stay on the grass alleviates the poop problem. But it sounds like the trail tread may be stone dust (you mentioned divots).  Divots are worse (deeper) when horses are ridden at speed. You could try posting a sign that limits equestrians to walking only (but that would be such a shame, as rail trails are a favorite place to go faster - good footing, and usually a straight stretch of trail).  A compromise would be "Walk and trot (or jog) only" as cantering, the horse's third gear, causes more and deeper divots than trotting or walking.

Consider asking equestrians to stay to the extreme right side of the trail, leaving the center of the path unmarred by divots. I know you said the trail has a drop off, is there any kind of barrier along the edge? Providing even a visual barrier such as railroad ties along the edge (as opposed to a physical one, a sturdy fence) can provide some comfort and guidance to an equestrian trail user going along the edge.. Unfortunately it is a natural tendency for everyone to "aim for the middle", but merely making the suggestion may help! Horses that are driven have little choice but to go down the middle (or the cart would capsize over the edge). But most rail-trails see more equestrian riders than drivers.

Posting a sign at the trailhead, or signs along the stretch that is open to horses, which says "Please clean up after your horse" may or may not get results. Many people ride tall horses, and find it difficult to mount and dismount when on the trail. Some riders ride because they have physical disabilities, and cannot dismount easily. So they are unlikely to dismount to kick the manure off the trail. The answer to that problem is to separate the parking areas that are used by equestrians and cyclists/pedestrians.

Manure from one or two horses per day on the trail usually isn't a problem. Upwards of ten horses per day gets to be a bit much. Horses produce about 50 lbs of manure per 24-hour day, but from experience I know most of this lands in the barn and trailer where I have to clean it up. The rest is usually deposited at the beginning of a ride (Horses are nervous in their new surroundings, and exercise causes them to "unload"). So you're likely to see more manure at or near the trailhead than farther on down the line. Is it possible to create an equestrian-only parking area, separated from the bike/ped parking area? If it were located 5 or more miles from the bike/ped area, less pedestrians are likely to get that far and encounter the problem.

Finally you can try to put a positive spin on horse manure! It is all natural, recycled material that provides sustenance for various other species (bugs, birds, worms, mice ...)! It also breaks down fairly quickly in the sun, usually leaving no more residue than your lawn mower's clods of wet grass clippings. Educational signage at the trailhead may help pedestrians get over the 'Ew!" factor. My friend Dr. Cyla Allison has an excellent presentation on manure, perhaps you could borrow from it.

Bridges and Horses

Recommendations for Bridges on horse trails:

Note: I am not an engineer and cannot offer recommendations concerning pounds per square inch, strength and durability of materials to be used, etc.

  • Whenever possible, use a natural water crossing (it’s cheaper to install and easier to maintain). Reinforce banks by armoring with stone or using geoweb mesh.
  • Deck material should be solid (not see-through!). Stringers should be strong enough so the deck doesn’t bounce when horses cross (unnerving!).
  • Width can be as little as 48”, but you may want to consider an 8’ or wider bridge to accommodate emergency vehicles.
  • Railings should be high. 48" would be a minimum, and the higher the bridge, the higher and more sturdy the railing should be.
  • Create an approach that causes users to naturally aim for the middle of the bridge. If the banks are steep on either side of the bridge, create a barrier to prevent users from trying to descend.
  • Unprotected approaches cause two problems.
    • Even though it should be apparent that this is impossible, some riders may try to get down to the water so the horse can drink. Or they may be afraid of heights and try to avoid the bridge entirely.
    • An unwilling horse may begin to shy sideways, endangering himself and the rider should he step off the precipice.
  • Arched bridges are aesthetically appealing, but horses are almost guaranteed to slip on the decking. A horse could slip and fall on such a bridge…!

Bridge Examples

Bridge over the Brookfield Swamp, Brookfield Horse Trails, DEC Region 7.
Contact Sherburne office (607) 374-4036 for plans/details.  Bridge surface is covered with fine gravel/dirt so it is no different from adjacent trail surface.  Sides are sturdily built to prevent users from falling off (Bridge is high over swamp).

Riders crossing Brookfield Bridge - note railing height and strength. Center span of bridge is pressure treated wood decking.

Bridge over Otter Creek, Otter Creek Horse Trails, Glenfield, NY, DEC Region 6 (315) 376-3521.  Similar to Brookfield - high over swamp/water; sturdy sides, dirt surface to wood in center span. Note how railings form wings to draw horse across.

Railroad bridge on the Oswego County Recreation Trail, this one near Rte 104.  Original metal decking is not ideal for horses, but strong and better if covered with wood. Note motor vehicle guard rails to keep users on bridge. Note how railings form wings.

Motor vehicle bridge, Cold River Horse Trail System, Coreys, NY (High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park).  This bridge exists so that fire equipment may be brought into the Wilderness area (otherwise closed to MV use). Decking is placed left to right across stringers and then covered with perpendicular planks for additional strength. RR ties on edges help keep users on bridge, which is not very high over stream.  Most horses cross in center (note path to bridge) as the RR ties serve as guidelines.  Two draft horses can safely cross side by side. Est. width 9'.

Another MV bridge, Otter Creek Horse Trail System, Glenfield, NY. This trail is open to MV use (people drive in to go fishing) so the bridge is built to withstand approx. 10,000 lbs of weight. Once again planks were laid left to right then covered with perpendicular planks for strength. Note how this bridge is almost part of the trail - most horses don't object to it. It is wider than the Cold River Bridge, est. 12'.  However it has no RR ties for guide rails - not very safe; but there may be 2x4s (can't tell from this picture).

This stone bridge is in Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine, but similar ones exist at Rockefeller State Park Preserve, Pocantico Hills (Tarrytown), NY(914) 631-1470.  Designed specifically for carriage traffic, it is 16' wide and the stone sides are approximately 36" high.  It is possibly the safest (and most expensive) type of horse bridge.

This stone overpass is also at Acadia National Park.  Similar "tunnels" are found at Rockefeller State Park Preserve.  The height from the carriage road tread is approximately 14' at the center arch, 12' at the sides.

The Ford Plantation, Savannah, GA

This handsome bridge at the Ford Plantation quickly became troublesome for both riders and horses.  The arched design created a slope of about 20 degrees.  When the bridge surface was wet, the pressure treated wood became slimy, causing horses to slip and riders to fear for a fall. 

The bridge span is about 35 feet above the water. At only 42" high, the railings  made riders feel very insecure.

There were no barriers to prevent horses from veering away from the bridge, down the dangerously steep bank.  Rocks and deep mud prevented a natural water crossing.

All About Horse Manure!

Excerpted from "The Real Poop", Horse Manure Facts (a presentation), courtesy of Dr. Cyla Allison, Ph.D.

“Sit down before fact as a little child,
be prepared to give up every preconceived notion,
follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss nature leads,
or you shall learn nothing."
--Thomas Huxley

There is a real problem with other users of our gentrified environment—geese!

The Canadian goose has become a major pollution problem all over the country, from Washington State to Minnesota and Pennsylvania to Long Island, the ”Menacing Stately Giants” bring E. coli, Giardia, Salmonella and Cryptosporidium to your home town parks, soccer fields and golf courses and trails.

The average goose poops about three pounds a day and can damage five square feet of turf daily.

For example, there are about 25,000 geese in the Seattle area. That means the region has to deal with 75,000 lbs of goose poop daily anywhere the goose wants to go.

Furthermore, since birds eat the poop, yum-yum, and that poop carries pathogens to other places, the danger to human health is growing.

Horse manure has none of the pathogens humans are concerned about. It is safe.

Geese are a protected species. At home in NY in 2003, Sen. Charles Schumer obtained $200,000 in federal funds to address the geese overpopulation problem.

FACT: Horse manure on trails carries no disease of any danger to humans: no Giardia, no Cryptosporidium, no e coli, no Salmonella. Horse manure is all but 12 percent water. On a trail horse manure dries up and completely disappears in less than 12 days.

Better we should extend our efforts to getting rid of the deer (carries deer tick—Lyme), mice (Hantus virus) and geese.

More fun documents for your edification:

Horse Manure on Shared Use Trails (pdf)
Horse Manure and Invasive Species(not!) (pdf)
The American Horse Council's Invasive Plant Draft Environmental Impact Statement (pdf)


Horses in New York State

Here is a link to the New York State Equine Survey, conducted in 2000.

Kids and horses - what it's all about.

Trail Courtesy

Trail Courtesy (for equestrian trail users)

Trail Signage

Sometimes the biggest user conflict is due to a lack of proper signage. We need to know:

At left: Recommendation to Trail Managers: Use this symbol on all trails which are shared between equestrians and other users. "Wheels Yield to Heels Yield to Horses" ... this easy-to-remember phrase works for trails shared with motorized users, too.

At right: The great sign on the right is found in Acadia National Park. Spelling out the rules of the road at the outset helps everyone know what to expect.

Trail conditions can change due to weather, or in this case trail work. Trails don't have to be fancy to be effective. This one addresses a safety issue.
Markers on this shared-use trail at Bear Spring Mountain WMA  indicate that it is shared seasonally: in winter it is a Snowmobile trail, in summer it is open to horses and hikers.

Signage indicating who should and should not be on the trail is appreciated by all trail users.

We CAN share!!

<-- This one is kind of extreme. 
Why not just say

I have never seen such a sign on a horse trail, but

are pretty prevalent on hiking trails.

Why is that? .. the fact is.. there are very few "horse trails" any more. They are "shared-use" trails.

Much appreciated in urban and suburban areas.

Tunnels and Horses

The following Q&A may help trail designers.

Q: A railroad definitely does not want a trail crossing their tracks. We were thinking of an at-grade crossing, but the railroad seems set on a tunnel under their tracks. They have proposed large metal culvert pipes. How would these tunnels/pipes be for horses? Would it be too claustrophobic for the horses or do they not mind such a situation?

A: Horses can get used to a lot of things. The *confinement* of the tunnel shouldn't be too bad. Think about a horse trailer; the inside can be 6'6" to 8' high and the stall is only 30, 32, or 36 inches. Talk about claustrophobic! There are several other concerns with tunnels:

Length: the shorter the better. A horse would be a lot less anxious if he could see out the other side.

Lighting: the longer the tunnel, the darker it will be, and some kind of lighting will be necessary for everyone's comfort and safety. Accomplishing that could be difficult given the location of the tracks.. solar powered lights, but how??

A small tunnel at Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, ME

A long, dark  tunnel on the Silver Comet Trail in Georgia

Height: Well, I'd like you to consult John Middlebrooks, manager of Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Pocantico Hills, NY (914) 631-1470. There are one or two tunnels under roads on that property, and it would be interesting to know their dimensions, particularly how high they are. They have been in use for many years without a problem, but they are short, perhaps 20 feet.

Another resource is Acadia National Park, there is at least one stone overpass where the park road goes over the carriage road. They could probably find out the height of it as well.

At Letchworth State Park, trail 2, is a short tunnel under an operating railroad (see photo in Ride New York, page 211). You could also ask them about its dimensions(716)-493-3600, but it is so short that the horse really doesn't realize he's in a tunnel (unless the train happens to be overhead!).

Finally there is a tunnel under route 9N at the Lake Luzerne Public Campground (DEC Region 5, Warrensburg: 518-623-3671). THAT one is really claustrophobic, and has water in it most of the time!

Comparing the dimensions of these will be useful.

My own opinion would have to be the higher and wider, the better. 11' high would be plenty for me and my little horse, a tall rider on a tall horse might have trouble. You could get around it by posting signs at either end: "Riders please dismount and lead your horse through tunnel", and post the actual clearance width and height. It should be obvious to most people that if the horse reared in there they would get hurt. (but... there are always a few..). The width is necessary for two-way traffic.

Sound: This is probably the biggest problem in a tunnel. The sound reverberates off the walls and is startling to a horse because they can't identify where the "perceived threat" is coming from. The sound is all around, bouncing off the walls and roof and multiplying. All the more reason to dismount and lead them through. So a deadening dirt surface underfoot will help immensely. I don't know if concrete or metal sides/overhead would make a big difference; both don't absorb the sound.

Tunnel under a working railroad at
Letchworth State Park, Mt. Morris, NY -
A challenge for the best-behaved horse!

Vertical Clearance on Horse Trails

What vertical clearance guidelines are required/desired for horse trails?

There is a book called "Trails Manual" by Charles Vogel, published by Equestrian Trails Inc., P. O. Box 44135, Sylmar, CA   91342 in 1982.  This book contains excellent guidelines for building equestrian trails.

The following illustration appears on page 63: (click photo for larger view)

This illustration recommends a trail tread width of 8' and a height of 10'.

Horse-Friendly Water Crossings


The bank of this stream (beyond the horse's head) is eroding for a number of reasons: 
- The soil type
-The slope of the bank
-Increased use of the trail
-Water damage due to heavy rains

The stones near the water's edge are hazardous to horses as they twist and turn underfoot. There are also metal railroad spikes, as this trail is below a railroad bridge. The water is exposing old sins.


This equestrian trail crossing a creek has been stabilized by the use of a synthetic material called Geocell. The material holds the aggregate stone in place, both underwater and on the banks, creating a safe, firm crossing that can withstand all types of traffic.  Much cheaper than a bridge, and low maintenance too!

Thoughts on Standardizing Horse Trails Across New York State (12/2000) (pdf)

horse trails equestrian trails carriage roads bridle paths bridle trails equestrian horse equine trails trail systems atvs bridges tunnels