Many of us ride on multi-use trails and may encounter hikers and bikers while riding. Then again, we may not. For instance, my area is renowned for its excellent mountain biking opportunities, but I can go weeks without have a chance encounter with cyclists. That infrequency can be a problem when riders would like to be sure their horses will be safe if and when it does happen.
What to do?
We want our horses to be savvy and calm around bikes. But if the biker/rider stars do not align, how can we know how our horses will react? We create interactions to at least give them to chance to see something and hear something that resembles bikes and bikers on any given day. Sure, we may not have the exact element of surprise that impacts us riders in the moment. But, hey, a planned novel interaction is better than no novel interaction at all.
Over the course of an afternoon, my friend, Jessica, and I “bike proofed” our horses.
We took turns riding horses and bikes with varying degrees of speed, noise, surprise, and direction. Certainly, this exercise will not steel our horses for any bike encounter. But it did expose them to that stealthy, fast-approaching thing that often comes up from behind with little audible warning.
It was a fun project. Here are a few strategies we used:
Initially, we had the horses see the bike coming from the front. The bike was being ridden slowly and the horse, at a walk, had time to check it out. The biker made lots of noise and stopped to let the horse sniff.
Over the course of several passes, we changed elements of the horse-bike encounters. We approached from behind while talking and ringing the bike bell. Then, we approached from behind with more speed and less sound. We also varied our steering, from straight-on to more crooked approach, with unpredictable turns.
I’d like to say that the horses were nervous at first and become calmer over the course of the afternoon. I’d like to say that it was because of our expert riding and handling that these horses succeeded in shifting their mindset from anxious to interested and calm. In truth, the whole thing was a bit anti-climactic. Even wary Barry seemed to view the whole exercise as much ado about nothing.
Will this translate to no-drama bike encounters on our future rides? Maybe. If it helps, hooray! If our horses make no connection between a sunny afternoon of ‘bike proofing’ and another moment that happens to involve cyclists, then so be it. Such are the joys and unknowns of horse riding.