Y’ALL HAVE HEARD about the Leave No Trace Program, right?
Officially adopted by the United States Forest Service in 1990, its main goal is to preserve our wilderness and trails to minimize the impact and damage caused by so many people using the land.
Well, last year, our own Peninsula Chapter of Back Country Horseman introduced the 3S Program — stop, stand and speak.
That, too, is for the benefit of all trail users today and for future generations.
Officially adopted by the state Back Country Horsemen, and possibly soon by Back Country Horsemen of America, the 3S Program is the brainchild of Past President Cate Bendock.
Most of us who ride the trails have our own stories to share of near-misses or collisions with cyclists (which a horse might see as a fast-moving predator such as a mountain lion) or horses that have been freaked out by hikers wearing rain gear and backpacks (which a horse might view as an approaching bear), so Bendock thoughtfully put together a brochure with safety guidelines when encountering horses, mules and even llamas on trails — of special importance on multi-use trails.
As the brochure states, “All responsible trail users appreciate our public lands and want to enjoy the beauty and recreation it affords us. This is our common goal. Doing this successfully will help all users maintain the use of public lands and we can enjoy them together.”
I know first-hand how terrifying it is to encounter a fast-approaching cyclist on a trail and have no room for my horse to step aside to let him zoom past.
It’s not unusual for a cyclist — or a dirt-bike rider — to underestimate the time it takes to stop on dirt.
This is where the term “slide-stop” really comes into play because dirt isn’t stationary like asphalt; it moves.
So I was excited Saturday, April 15, when I met with fellow horse enthusiast Kris Phillips at our neighborhood’s association meeting.
A Peninsula Chapter member, she had just returned from helping out at Olympic National Park’s Junior Ranger Day.
Held at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles, visitors were treated to an up-close and personal encounter with a miniature horse and a donkey owned by chapter members Tony and Cat Sample.
There, chapter member Linda Morin led a discussion on trail safety and the 3S Program, and then there was a demonstration of a bicyclist encountering an equestrian on a trail and how to respond.
The demo was performed by Lillian Bond on horseback and her mom, Jennifer Bond, on the bike.
Phillips was telling me how bikes and horses have gotten into some potentially dangerous situations on some of the more popular trails for bicyclists, such as those around the Dan Kelly Road trailhead.
While most bikers are courteous, a few are not, and it can only take one thoughtless act to cause an accident or even a collision between horse and rider.
“It’s especially concerning when riding on a steep hillside with a narrow trail and there is no room to pass,” Phillips said.
I called Morin to find out more about the program.
She was kind enough to stop by my place to give me the brochure and more information.
She shared that the most important take-home message when sharing trails with horses is to speak up and say hello.
“Horses are a prey species, so when they feel threatened their first instinct is to run away,” Morin said.
“A hiker could be wearing a backpack or a clown outfit, it really doesn’t matter.
“What’s important to know is they could view you as something scary, which is why it’s important to speak up and say something, because as soon as you speak, then the horse recognizes you as one of those silly humans.”
What I didn’t know is it’s actually a law that all trail users must yield to the horse.
“Because a horse is an independent thinker and has a mind of his own,” Morin said.
“As much as we train them and try to expose to potentially scary situations, we never truly know how the horse will react to what they view as a potential threat.”
So what should a person do when they comes across livestock?
“First the horse and rider should stop and stand on the trail when they see you coming,” Morin said.
“The hiker should stand still in a relaxed, non-aggressive stance, speak to the rider in a relaxed manner and then ask, ‘What should I do to pass?’
“If the trail is on a hill, it’s preferable for the horse to stand on the upside and the hiker or cyclist on the downside because on the downhill side, the human looks smaller and less aggressive to the horse.”
Right of way
• Yield the right of way to those passing you from behind or traveling uphill.
• Motorized vehicles yield to bicyclist, hikers, runners and horses.
• Bicyclists yield to hikers, runners and horses.
• Hikers, runners and bicyclists yield to horses.
• Pull to the side of the trail, preferably on the downhill side, as soon as you see horses.
• If a horseback rider has pulled off to the side first, do not assume it is safe to pass. Stop and wait for the rider to tell you it’s OK.
• Go slowly when you can’t see what’s ahead of you, such as approaching a corner.
• Off-road vehicles should turn off their motors until the horse has passed.
• Train your horse for trail obstacles and encountering all of the above before riding narrow trails and hilly terrain.
• Safety first. Get off your horse if that is the safe thing to do.
• Ensure your horse is comfortable with hikers wearing large packs that extend beyond their head.
• Introduce your horse to dogs and other animals you might encounter on the trail.
• Allow the seasoned “trail-wise” horse to lead those with less experience.
• Scoop the poop at all trailheads and staging areas. If possible, get off and kick the manure off the trail.
A special note to riders on the Discovery Trail and Robin Hill Park: Ride on horse-designated trails and areas only.
Clean up after your horse and kick the manure off to the side. When posted, horses are to ride to the side on the dirt and not on asphalt trails.
Sharing the trail with multiple users can work when people respect and work cooperatively to be safe.
All of the above calls for keeping an eye out on your surroundings. Be alert because you could come across another trail user at any time, and perhaps remove those ear buds so you can hear the sounds of nature and sounds of approaching hoofbeats.
• Peninsula Chapter’s next general meeting is May 1 at 5 p.m. in the Clallam County Courthouse.
• On Saturday, April 29, the Peninsula Chapter will be hosting a Youth Packing Clinic at Layton Hill Horse Camp from 10 a.m. 2 p.m.
Demonstrations will include types of pack saddles, their uses and how to saddle stock.
There will be LNT and 3S classes, too. Lunch will be provided.
To register, contact Morin at 360-681-5030.
For directions, contact Layton Hill Horse Camp at 360-775-6500.
• The Sequim Equestrian Team will hold its exhibition Sunday, April 30, from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Freedom Farm, 493 Spring Road.
Call coach Katie Salmon at 360-775-0350 for more information.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also write Griffiths at PDN, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362.