Yesterday I went for a shortie mountain bike ride at Devil’s Backbone Open Space. Heading north, within the first mile of trail, I spot a saddled horse in the trail, eating grass. My first assumptions were that the rider was thrown off or they got off for an emergency pit stop in the bushes. I looked around and couldn’t see a rider.
As I approached the horse, I could see a horse and rider ahead on the trail about 200 yards or so. The rider was calling to the horse without a rider. As I got near the riderless horse I could see it was a young filly wearing only a halter and not a bridle. This means that more than likely no one was riding the horse – unless the rider ahead was leading the horse and its rider.
Keep in mind this is one of the busiest trails in the county– if not the busiest trail.
The woman ahead is shouting to me that the horse is very friendly and I shouldn’t be worried at all about passing the young filly. Know that I’ve had horses in my past and I know that they can easily get spooked. This can mean kicking, rearing up or bolting away on a full run. My main concern at this point was to not spook the filly and send it though a nearby barbed wire fence.
As I got closer to the woman, she explained to me that this was the filly’s first day with a saddle on. She was trying to teach the filly to wear a saddle and to follow her on the other horse.
Having been a horse owner, I couldn’t understand why someone would put the filly and other trail users at such risk. What a stupid training plan for the horse. My mind was spinning.
I knew it was against trail rules to have dogs off leash; but is it against rules to have a horse off lead (the horse term for a leash)?
The owner kept explaining to me how gentle all her horses are and this is not a problem and the filly would just love it if I were to stop and spend time petting her. I told her “no thanks” and moved on.
Knowing I would encounter them again on my way back, in about 10 minutes, I was deciding how to deal with the situation – if at all.
On my way back, I could see that the rider made it to the bottom of one of the steep hills (I'm descending, she's climbin), while the filly lagged behind some 150 yards. As I made my way between the two, I could see two sets of hikers coming toward the back side of the filly. About eight people total. At this point the filly is blocking the trail in front of them.
I decided to ask the rider if she actually had a lead for the horse. She told me she did. I told her I have owned horses and in my opinion, her horse needed to be on a lead for the safety of the horse and the other trail users. This was no place to do the type of training she was trying to do.
Meanwhile the woman instructed hikers to go ahead and pass behind the filly as it would be no problem at all. I could tell these people knew nothing about horses the way they passed behind the filly. Both horses are now getting a little nervous with hikers closing in on them and me in the middle between the two horses. This was a situation with huge risk.
In between justifying her actions, the woman agreed it was a poor decision to have the horse off lead for the first time on this trail. She put the horse on a lead and everyone went safely on their way.
As it turns out, all “pets” must be on a leash at Devil’s Backbone.
I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see this woman again.