Cyclist Etiquette around Horses

Taking the gravelly road less traveled, you invariably encounter all manner of interesting people, animals and vehicles. If you ride these roads on a frequent basis, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll encounter horses and their riders.

cyclist etiquette around horses

I’m no expert in the matter, but I used to ride horses a long time ago, and I canvassed some equestrian friends about cyclist etiquette around horses. Many horses see the rider and bicycle combination as a potential threat. Ideally, you want the horse to identify you as a friendly human, and the bicycle means no harm.

cyclist etiquette around horses

In this chance encounter with two complete strangers astride horses, I stop, get off the bike and slowly walk towards them. It is better to stop completely and allow the horse to approach you. Whatever you do, DO NOT lay the bike down. The horse may identify a bike on the ground as a dead entity, and that could imply its rider means harm.

This encounter turned out well. The horses approached me and realized my bicycle and I were of no harm. Additionally, I made a good impression with the people riding the horses. A huge thank you to my equestrian friends (Jill, Dana and more) who provided advice over the years.

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  1. I’m a horse gal through and through. Talk to the horse. That’s the biggest thing ….. just talk. Most horses only freak because the bike comes speeding up behind them. And if the rider knows you are coming, they should know what the horse is going to do.

    Thanks for the article.

  2. Avatar Joe Cross

    We need to be careful if we are biking and come up from behind the horses as well. Maybe let them know we are there and then let the equestrians take it from there. Maybe ask them to tell us when it is ok to pass by. I would think that is better than just blasting by them on the road.

    • JOM JOM

      I wish I had video where I could show approaching from behind. Yes, definitely communicate way ahead of time.

    • Avatar Koyote

      I live in Amish country. If I slowed, stopped and asked permission each time I needed to pass a horse, I’d never get anywhere. I simply go wide around them and I’ve never seen a single problem. Of course, their horses all have blinders on them.

  3. Avatar Dale

    It is also a very good idea to stay on the downhill side of the horse. Predators typically attack from uphill.

  4. Avatar bobknh

    I ride in an area with many equestrians on dirt roads. I totally agree with Linda E’s suggestion. Slow down, say hello, and ask the riders if they want you to stop.

    • Avatar Rich Lee

      I wrote a letter to the MROSD board and it was read at the public meeting last month. The trails were re-opened to bikes and horses the following week. As to approaching horses, Linda is correct. The best thing to do is announce your approach, especially if you are coming from behind or the equestrian is below you on a section of switchback trail. Ask them if they want you to stop or just ride by slowly. My wife and I have been riding horses as well as road/gravel/mountain bikes (Lauf, Specialized and Ritchey) on local multi-use trails in the Santa Cruz Mts. for decades without any major conflicts. We are lucky enough to have Icelandic horses, which are fearless and enjoy following/racing cyclists. We are surprised at the number of cyclists who stop for us when they don’t need to, mostly because they want to know more about Icelandic Horses. As far as horse poop goes, “get over it”. Gu/bar wrappers, T.P., dog poop (left in plastic bags) and lately, discarded masks and gloves are far more annoying.

      • JOM JOM

        Thanks for writing in Rich. I’m with you on horse poop… it is biodegradable, I don’t understand why people have an issue with it.

  5. Avatar Ryan Winzenburg

    Thanks for making this video. One of my favorite trails is near an equestrian park and the riders are always grateful when I dismount. I’ll definitely see if the riders want to introduce their horses to my bike next time.

  6. Avatar Randy Ayers

    Thanks JOM, I appreciate you informing cyclists on this subject. Being both a horse owner and cyclist myself. A little bit of knowledge can prevent a dangerous situation especially for the horse rider and both the cyclist and the horse. We can share the trails peacefully and safely.

  7. K-Dogg K-Dogg

    So cool JOM.
    Like Crocodile Dundee when that Aussie magically calmed a dangerous water buffalo down.
    You should try that on a pit bull…one with a number tattoo.
    You should protect the rest of us by catching it’s attention to you.
    I’m just sayin

  8. Avatar Jeffery Butterfield

    I live on Mount Desert Island in Maine, home to Acadia National Park. The fifty-six miles of carriage roads in the park are frequented by gravel cyclists and horses, so on any given ride, you’re bound to cross paths. I once asked a lady on horseback if stopping was sufficient, and she suggested that simply slowing down and keeping to the opposite side of the road was often fine, but that talking was key. The horse wants to know if you’re an animal (a potential threat) or a human. My general approach is to slow way down and start talking (“Human here, Horsey, not an animal.”) well before we are close to each other. I’ll also sometimes call ahead for the horse’s name. The exception are the pairs of monstrous draft horses that haul carriages full of tourists up Day Mountain. They see this puny thing coming at them and just scoff, knowing perhaps that with a flick of a tail, they could send me cartwheeling into the ditch. Awesome beasts.

  9. Avatar The Judge

    Horses on public trails are a nuisance. They are a danger to pedestrians and cyclists and leave large piles of dung. Personally, I think people who ride horses on public trails should be required to pack out any solid waste left by their horses.

    • Avatar Reefer Mac

      Yes, I have often wondered what makes horse poop so special that it can be left in place.

  10. Avatar Lyford

    When overtaking from the rear I’ve had good results calling “bicycle back” or something similar and then asking the rider what they want. Usually it’s to talk continuously so that the horse knows where you are, and ride slowly past giving plenty of room — across the road if you can. Don’t freewheel — the noise is spooky. I stay lightly on the brakes so I can pedal continuously without goin too fast.

    • JOM JOM

      I am still waiting for someone to post a live video, as I did, demonstrating what they have written, and that applies to everyone who has replied. What I did happened spur of the moment, I am quite pleased with how I handled the situation.

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