In the last few days I've been repeatedly irritated by the tendency for MTBers to believe that horses are only happy travelling on sanitised bridleways and are incapable of coping on technical terrain with a rough surface. The two examples have been that route near Bath up/down a rock strewn stream/path/gulley, and the 'steep, rocky chute that Y Das is famous for". Both views have been as misguided as those of a cyclist who only pootles to the shops on a folding bike declaring that you can't ride a bike down a DH track because it's too steep and too rough.
I don't know how best to explain the offroad ability of a horse to a non-rider. I suppose if you've just seen competition horses on smooth grass, sand or dirt (racing, show-jumping, eventing) then you might assume that's the only surface they're comfortable on. Yes, they're ideal surfaces for competition - but most horses you see "hacking out" are not competition horses. I've spent weeks riding long days across the Welsh hills/moors/mountains and I've had to get off my horse (multiple different horses, I don't own my own) twice - once when we encountered an excitable herd of bullocks on a steep hillside and we didn't want to have a chasing/stampeding incident, and once on a very steep Tarmac road (steel horseshoes don't grip smooth Tarmac terribly well - 'unrideable' rocks are far preferable). But we've delighted in riding numerous techy ascents and descents, most of the former being unrideable on a MTB unless you're a great trialsy rider and many of the latter being on the scarier end of challenging for your average MTBer. Yes, it's great when you get an open fell that you can give their head on and gallop at full tilt across it (they love to run and many want to win a race, it's in their genes) but the techy slow stuff where it's all about line choice and balance is a different sort of fun, just like MTBing has many different fun challenges.
Horses are used to pick their way down the narrow, rock strewn Andean paths of Peru, across the epic landscapes of New Zealand as Middle Earth, in and out of deep rivers, over mountains and amongst the wildlife of Africa, and so on, and people pay good money to go on horse-riding holidays in these places (I've done the latter example).
The examples I've seen of bridleways which have been 'improved', allegedly for equestrian use, have appalled me. They've taken surfaces which may have been an interesting challenge to walk on and turned them into something deathly dull but unsuitable for faster progress on the whole and often covered in those annoying stones that are small enough to get stuck in your hooves and need picking out.
A horse is much closer in its offroad ability to its distant relative the mountain goat, than a mountain bike is distant from a road bike. They have four independent legs, huge power, excellent balance, near 360 degree vision and delight in going places - point them up or down a hill and work with them (don't sit there like a pony trekking glued-to-the-saddle wobbly lump) and off they go! It's only when it gets to hands and feet scrambling terrain that you may have to dismount and lead - but they'll still often manage it, as I witnessed up a mountain in South Africa.
If some horsists are behind the sanitisation of bridleway then they're as fair representation of horse-riders as those cyclists who want to be able to ride their hybrid slowly on offroad paths away from cars but on a nice smooth surface even if it's in the middle of nowhere, are of those of us on here.
Not a rant, just some education. And if you see horses on a road, they're not there because they want to be, they're almost always there because it's the only way between A and B, due to the lack of bridleways in England and Wales (most of what would have been are now roads) and you can't cheekily go down footpaths because you can't get a horse over a stile unless you're a very good (and mad) jumper! Yes, horses are bit harebrained and scared of the most stupid things at times (plastic bags being the most common offender) but in the wild, covering distance over seriously rough and steep terrain they're more capable than many MTBers.