"The thought of fragile legged horses…" – on the offroad ability of hooves

Home Forum Bike Forum "The thought of fragile legged horses…" – on the offroad ability of hooves

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  • "The thought of fragile legged horses…" – on the offroad ability of hooves
  • 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.

    IHN
    Member

    Good points, well made. Again, I think much of the sanitisation is done by councils thinking it’s the kind of surface that riders (bike and horse) ‘want’, without actually being aware that it’s really not

    small enough to get stuck in your hooves and need picking out.

    Thank god for Swiss army knives eh? 🙂

    The irony is I’ve yet to see a Swiss Army Knife which has a hoofpick (that’s what the tool for getting stones out of a horse’s hoof is called) on it! Mine has two things that look a bit like one but they’re a reamer (for cleaning your pipe) and a parcel hook (for carrying string-bound parcels)… 😉

    Premier Icon soulwood
    Subscriber

    I would say the problem is exactly the same as bike riders. The equipment is capable but the rider unwilling or unable to commit to proper gnarly trails. All the council has to do is get hold of one of those riders to endorse their sanitation of trails. It just reinforces everybody elses desires to ride trails that are not maked as BW’s, and that includes horse riders. I’ve been on many paths that I knew were FP’s and seen hoofprints!

    Premier Icon Rio
    Subscriber

    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.

    I believe a lot of the sanitation of trails around here (Chilterns) is done either by or at the behest of the commercial horse-riding organisations, not the individual riders – what I would refer to as the rental-horse crowd.

    Regardless of this, I wish horse riders would have more sensitivity to trail conditions – yes, a horse is capable of getting through practically anything but the mess it can make of soft trails (including footpaths; horse riders round here have the same attitude to RoW designations as mountain bikers) is unbelievable.

    Good point – you can cheekily ride footpaths on a horse but only if you know what obstacles are down it – I’m usually following an OS map with no more information than the map shows, hence footpath avoidance (otherwise I’d go wherever if it’s quiet and non-quagmire-making …)

    jonba
    Member

    Some people are obviously “over horsed” if they can only ride on smooth paths. My fiance is in to horse riding holidays (it was a a choice of buying a horse or go somewhere exotic each year for the same price #firstworldproblems). She has done a couple with “In the saddle”. Namibia, the safari on the Delta in Botswana, following the silk route through Kyrgyzstan and before that she spent a few months working on a cattle station in the Australian outback. Non of these places are known for their smooth paths.

    Unlike a bike though you need to be able to control/work with/understand/train your horse to be able to cope with this. If all you have ever done is ride in an arena/school then you might struggle.

    Worst surface IME for riding on is steep smooth tarmac. Metal doesn’t grip too well and for an animal with four legs they don’t half seem to slide around.

    I grew up MTBing in Northants and on the local clay that meant sinking in horse-churned mud in the Autumn and Spring and having your teeth shaken out throughout winter on the frozen version of the same on your rigid bike…

    wrecker
    Member

    I don’t for a second doubt a word written by the OP.
    My question is why do so many horsists insist that trails are sanitised? Is it because they are rubbish riders? If they want to ride flat, unchallenging terrain maybe they should find some quiet roads?

    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.

    Why do they keep getting their way? It’s more than one or two campaigning for trail sanitation or they’d be simply ignored and the moneys spent on things worthwhile.
    It’s frustrating that this “minority” of horsists keep spoiling things for MTBers AND the more capable horsists.

    scuttler
    Member

    What Soulwood said. Also there’s plenty of bike and horse riders who just want to be out there and don’t want the gnar and it probably never occurred to them that an uncomfortable or downright scary trail would appeal to others.

    As far as ‘roughtie toughtie’ horses go, just spend a wet afternoon watching old Westerns to see what horses can manage.

    bigyinn
    Member

    Regardless of this, I wish horse riders would have more sensitivity to trail conditions – yes, a horse is capable of getting through practically anything but the mess it can make of soft trails (including footpaths; horse riders round here have the same attitude to RoW designations as mountain bikers) is unbelievable.

    This is my only issue with horseriders.
    There were several parts of my sunday ride on bridleways which are know to be soft in the winter months and they were turned into unrieable swamps. Then they dry out in spring and are just lumpy crap to ride on. Most people I ride with tend to avoid certain trails in winter because the ground conditions are so soft, why cant horseriders do the same?

    emanuel
    Member

    mules ftw!

    B.A.Nana
    Member

    As part of a bigger plan, we’re possibly about to dip a toe in on Bridleway repairs, a section used regularly by mtbs and horses which is a quagmire for 6 months of the year. At some point I suppose local horsey people might have to be consulted on this section, it’ll be interesting to hear what they say about all the rocks, width of the track and twists and turns.

    klumpy
    Member

    I see the ramblers have got into this thread too. 🙄

    OP: keep riding, sounds great. Is there actually such a thing as horse ‘trials’, in the way that a biker would understand the word?

    I think I agree with most of that. My wife has an icelandic horse and it will ride up and down pretty much anything if you have the nerve to sit on it while it’s doing it.

    “steel horseshoes don’t grip smooth Tarmac terribly well”

    don’t shoe your horse then, more natural, better grip, cheaper, and less chance of the horse getting hit by lightning!

    klumpy
    Member

    Wonder if the horse equivalent of STW has “What horse shoes for…” threads?

    DrRSwank
    Member

    Isn’t most of the sanitisation done to prevent trails being ripped up by hooves?

    My OH doesn’t shoe her horses – but she has in the past and it is a pain when the trails get muddy as it can pull the shoes off – and this is a nuisance as it tends to annoy the horse if it’s only got three shoes and isn’t used to walking round without them.

    I guess sanitisation is just a fact of life these days. As trails become more and more used there’ll be some twonk who think putting hardcore down will prevent erosion. So instead of a naturally formed and naturally evolving trail we get obvious man made motorways running through the countryside.

    Premier Icon mintimperial
    Subscriber

    Why do they keep getting their way?

    I think there’s a legal requirement for bridleways to be fit for horses to use them, so if a horsey type kicks off saying something is unrideable then the local council has to do something. No such requirement for bikes on bridleways, so if cyclists kick off similarly the council can just ignore them (not saying they always do, of couse).

    I’m always amazed by what some of our local horseists ride over. I’ve seen horseshoe prints going up stuff I wouldn’t dream of trying to ride up. They don’t half make a mess of some of the paths though…

    cbike
    Member

    I thought the sanitisation was to do with access for all? which includes disabled access? The path my folks promote has to take this into account.

    rusty90
    Member

    Is there actually such a thing as horse ‘trials’

    If you mean events/races, there’s lots of endurance/enduro type stuff for horses. I’m told the arabs are getting into it in a big way and spending silly money on suitable horses. I’ve a friend who used to do lots of endurance competitions and had a horse that could go up and down anything – required nerves of steel from the rider though !

    If you mean ‘trails’, then yes – they’re called bridleways 😀

    Premier Icon mintimperial
    Subscriber

    I thought the sanitisation was to do with access for all? which includes disabled access? The path my folks promote has to take this into account.

    Yeah, there’s all sorts of different initiatives and suchlike, but I think the only statutory legal requirement for a bridleway is that it be passable on horseback. So even if a council is looking to do the bare minimum required by law they still have to pay attention if horse riders complain – if they did nothing then they could be taken to court over it. I could very well be wrong though – just offering a possible explanation as to why (some) horse riders seem to get their way more often on these sort of issues.

    klumpy
    Member

    Trials on 2 wheels is un-timed attempts to beat a piece of terrain without putting yer feet down, or falling off. The top guys are the ones who balance on and leap across skips, cars, and giant cotton reels.

    Premier Icon aracer
    Subscriber

    The fact you’re happy riding really rough stuff doesn’t mean it’s not the other horsey people behind trail sanitisation. The thing is, I’m sure most horse riders aren’t into riding technical terrain and do want nice smooth paths to ride on. That might also be the case for most bike riders, but the difference is bike riders do have plenty of alternatives for easy places to ride, whilst horseriders are stuck mostly with BWs.

    FWIW I’ve ridden a horse on more technical terrain than probably the vast majority of British horseriders, so I understand what you mean about their capabilities. Was in Utah, and far exceeded anything I’ve done in the UK (was also at night!) I couldn’t have ridden a bike there.

    Indeed it doesn’t – and the vocal minority can be very powerful. In Brighton a few years back one wheelchair user managed to almost single-handedly persuade the council to replace many of the bus stops with built out raised ones for improved disabled access. Fair enough, it must be hard getting wheelchairs on and off buses – but in the process my in-law’s road lost about twenty parking spaces, which meant that my wife’s disabled grandmother couldn’t park her car anywhere near their house when visiting because the road was full most of the time. And anecdotal evidence suggested that the wheelchair campaigner, nor any other wheelchair users, used that particular bus route. So one particularly vocal and well-intentioned minority managed to make things worse for many people, including others from that minority!

    but in the process my in-law’s road lost about twenty parking spaces,

    I commiserate entirely – but I have to take issue with this.

    It is PUBLIC ROAD SPACE, not your local PARKING AMENITY. I’d rather not have ANY cars littering the place, preventing busses from passing down the road due to stupid motorists leaving their tin boxes all over the place, preventing children from playing in the street and endangering all other road users in the process.

    Your steet was probably built without the intnetion of every family owning one or more vehicles.

    Mine was – everyone has 1 parking space. Half of the lazy muppets round here don’t use them, or own 3 vehicles and so the PUBLIC ROAD SPACE is still cluttered with DETRITUS.

    FFS.

    Have a nice day 🙂

    I quite agree Mr Hero. We have one car and a 50cc scooter in the garage, and we both commute on two wheels (one powered, one pedalled). The amount of unnecessary car ownership is staggering and rationalisation would make a huge difference. The road I mentioned though is an interesting case in point because there’s a recently built block of flats nearby which the council decided wouldn’t get any parking spaces because it would reduce car ownership and thus congestion.

    The reality is that many people who can afford at £250k+ flat also like to own a car (whether they need it or not) thus by stopping the developer from building underground parking (thus cutting the developer’s costs and increasing their profit margin) the council has shot itself in the foot because many of those flat owners also own cars and park them on nearby streets. Lack of joined-up thinking but that’s another thread entirely…

    nick3216
    Member

    Garburn & Nan Bield are pack horse routes. There’s a horse racing track at the top of High Street. There are bridleways across the River Lune that if you attempted on a bike would require you to pack raft or get very very wet.

    Footpaths? Five bar gates are “doable” 😉

    I find that the bridleways I want to ride a horse on are not the same as the ones I want to ride a bike on. Give me open enough so I can get into canter or gallop on the horse, but tight and nadgery on the bike. So I rarely cause or encounter the hoof print problem while cycling. TBH if my horse is sinking that far into the mud I’d try and ride elsewhere for the sake of my horse anyway, but in some places the bridleway network is so small that is not an option. I used to curse the bloke who rode his horse on Longridge Fell until I met him and we chatted and he bemoaned the lack of anywhere else he could ride. That’s why I’m for a more open RoW network with more freedom for everyone (yes, including 4x4s and trail bikes).

    klumpy
    Member

    Yep, lack of bridleways (or whatever) means more use of those that there are, making them wear worse and get busier, meaning they need to be downgraded or turned into motorways, and so on.

    As for ease access vs interestingness of challenge, simply (hah!) make it so the further from the log fence bordered carpark with information point and viewing spot you get, the gnarlier the terrain is allowed to get/remain. That way the ‘lightweights’ will never get to, or complain about, the good stuff.

    Premier Icon portlyone
    Subscriber

    I’d imagine they happily receive complaints that it’s too easy over summons to court for compensation for injuries sustained in riding the gnar (badly).

    Premier Icon tonyg2003
    Subscriber

    When I first met the Mrs, years ago. We used to down to the Brecons where she is from and go out. me on my MTB and her on her Welsh mountain cob. I can tell you that horse could go up any trail no problem and if you had the skill/nerve, downhill too. It was amazing to ride out with. Bloody hard work to keep up with in the mountains.

    neninja
    Member

    I suspect a lot of the so called ‘sanitisation’ is also to make the trail less likely to be damaged by horses.

    This afternoon I rode from near Northallerton to NW of Darlington sticking to bridleways are far as possible. Almost every single stretch of bridleway that wasn’t a farm track or semi-metalled was very badly churned up by horses. Large stretches were un-rideable as the mud was so bad it locked the wheels solid. It would be ok if the riders stuck to one side of the trail but even on 3-4m wide sections they had destroyed the surface from one hedge to the other. Had it been frozen it would have been even less fun.

    Looking at the number of hoof prints it hadn’t taken that many horses to create this destruction. I’m not feeling a great deal of love for horses today.

    klumpy
    Member

    The pipehouse was made of great big ROCKS. From what I’ve seen (and I’ve been there once upon a time) and read It’s only become “ruttable” now that a softer (but temporarily flatter) surface was lobbed on top.

    I remember when I started mountain biking – quite some years before anyone I knew had even heard of a mountain bike – and if a patch of ground was muddy it never occurred to us to blame someone. It’s the countryside, it’s MADE OF MUD. We rode round, or through, or somewhere else. We used to put on wellies and old jeans and actively look for muddy hikes.

    I sometimes wonder if everyone else is the same species as me…

    Premier Icon schnor
    Subscriber

    Although the specifics are covered in my article, generally speaking Bridleways are only improved if there is a financial ability to meet the reasonable needs of the users, in this case, horses beause as mentioned above there is only a statutory duty to provide reasonably convenient access for horses.

    Local authorities are provided £x0, 000 for A B and C. The local horse group says ‘please repair bridleways 1, 2, and 3!’, usually as a circular ride or ‘missing link’. These are improved in accordance with accepted guidelines for physical improvements to a BW (beyond BSEN standards for outdoor furniture) from the SNH / BTCV / BHS / etc

    What is reasonably convenient? There is no fixed answer really, but it has to be acceptable & navigable to the general everyday rider (like trail centers really; not ideal for everyone).

    I totally accept that a good horse / rider can do things an equally good bike / rider cannot do, which is perhaps fortunate why not every local authority can afford to maintain every single BW, so the occasional ‘difficult’ BW still exists (or what I do and leave the gnarly ones and plead ignorance!), however as local authorities need to act prudently it is in their interests if a BW is dangerously out of repair it can be closed for emergency repairs. Maybe in 25 years every BW will be ‘sanitised’, but by that point the old improved ones will be interesting again.

    Ultimately its a balancing act for every RoW employee like me, and when we make mistakes by being over-zealous or too cautious, please let us know and share your knowledge with us so we won’t make the same mistakes again!

    Please ask if anyone has any questions, I’ll head over to the other thread now

    p.s. BW’s generally are only improved for horses, not for any low-mobility / multi-user path, and although it may look like a load of hardcore chucked down, there is a technique to it in order to try and maintain the surfaces ability to cope with hooves

    p.p.s. yes it is annoying the minority of horse riders, as vocal & key players of a horse-riding group, seem to dictate what happens on everyones BW’s, but the projects are normally time-sensitive and if someone comes to you on day 1 with a list of BW’s, photos, the BHS approved spec, names / numbers of landowners who have given pre-approval, and a promise to help out volunteering 1 day a week what can we (the council) do? I say “thank you very much!” and basically do what they ask – sorry

    robsoctane
    Member

    I sometimes feel under-horsed on my New Forest Pony but only because at the minute I have a home-made New Zealand Rug which is so short that it’s low profile. Match that with my aluminium horseshoe nails, Kevlar reigns and a carbon bit. I only need a set of hydrophobic Oakley blinkers now, then I’m off.

    I find horses on the local bike/motocross routes. They find me using their bridleways… Neeeiiiigghh botha! 😉

    AnalogueAndy
    Member

    Interesting addition to the debate.

    I started the Bath thread, although I pointed the finger at the equestrian lobby I should point out that it’s not year clear who (if anyone) asked for it to be “improved”.

    http://singletrackworld.com/forum/topic/pipehouse-lane-nr-bath-improved

    That trail is not perhaps the best example to pick but as pointed out in that thread the local equestrian lobby has specifically campaigned for other local trails to be improved.

    Details here:

    the Mendip Bridleways & Byways Association Website

    As the examples they give on their site show not all the work they call for is ‘sanitisation’ or ‘improvement’, quite often they just trim back overgrowth or sort drainage which of course improves trails for us as much as them.

    http://www.mbba.org.uk/routes.htm

    Three Ashes Bridleway – Stoke St Michael

    In response to an MBBA member’s request, the committee duly walked this bridleway in the Autumn of 2009 together with Sheila Petherbridge, who was at that time, the Rights of Way Officer for Mendip District Council. As you will see from the photos, the route was in a pretty bad way and riders were not using it when wet. Large rocks were embedded in the ruts and the surface was very boggy and impassable in places. A considerable budget of over £3,000 and a detailed job spec were agreed with the MBBA contractor, Russell Bateman and after a very wet winter, work commenced in June 2010.

    The improvements are obvious in the photos below and should result in a good all-weather surface for many years to come. The clean-stone topping will bed in and mud will be walked across the path enabling grass to grow in due course. Shortly, the gates are due to be re-hung and horse friendly latches will be added to enable riders to enjoy an unhindered ride through this pretty area.

    Before
    “Not an easy ride and you’ll have to dismount for the gate!”

    After
    “That’s better”

    As I said in the other thread: I suppose the simple answer is it’s no good complaining and not doing anything about it. I’m in touch with the local IMBA rep and together we plan to talk to the local authority.

    Premier Icon zippykona
    Subscriber

    If the sanitisation of the trails is due to the councils obligation to make them passable by horse, we have plenty of evidence here that a horse can clear most obstacles rendering the legal necessity obsolete. Do the councils have an obligation to make the roads safe for horses and other road users? I can show you a thousand potholes that need filling.
    As for wheelchair access , good luck pushing one on that gravel.
    My local track that was got at, was the one rocky track around here and was always mud free.
    Regardless of who asked for what, these schemes cost a lot of money. If the general public was asked how they would like their taxes spent I’m sure smoothing out the countryside would be pretty near the bottom of their list.
    This is more than an MTB issue, it is up there with mps moat repairs.
    I have tried dealing with the council but all you get is corporate gobbledygook.

    james
    Member

    “We have one car and a 50cc scooter in the garage, and we both commute on two wheels (one powered, one pedalled). The amount of unnecessary car ownership is staggering”
    Yep, sounds like you don’t need yours for one then?

    “we have plenty of evidence here that a horse can clear most obstacles rendering the legal necessity obsolete”
    As pointed out above, the ‘lowest common user’ as it were has to fall off and sue?
    Potholes (though not the ROW budget) you would think would be more pressing though? Though what legal requirements are there to fill them? (Not saying there aren’t any, am sure there are, just don’t know)

    Premier Icon zippykona
    Subscriber

    Does anyone know if footpaths are getting this treatment or just bridleways. I seem to remember a few years back Janet Street Porter( who is a keen hiker) moaning about the sanitisation of the track leading to Snowdon.
    When dealing with any authority I don’t think mtber is upset that his track is smooth will garner much attention. However, tax payer concerned at misuse of our money will carry much more weight.

    “We have one car and a 50cc scooter in the garage, and we both commute on two wheels (one powered, one pedalled). The amount of unnecessary car ownership is staggering”
    Yep, sounds like you don’t need yours for one then?

    I used to be an area sales manager, a job that one couldn’t do without a car, hence the car is a 100k+, 9 year old retired repmobile of very little financial value, but still used for my business and the multitude of things which are impossible on public transport (like getting to our rural riding stables!)

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