Horses and mules have excellent vision, hearing and tactile senses. They can even feel vibrations through their hooves. They need a comfortable operating space but there can be a fine line between what is comfortable and what seems dangerous. Things that can startle horse or mule
How a horse or mule might view common things:
- loud or unexpected noises: motorized bikes, backfire, breaking branches, firecrackers...
- quick or unexpected movement: fast moving bikes, inquisitive children, running animals, birds flitting in bushes
- things in unusual combinations: hikers with large backpacks, vehicles with strange loads....
- highly contrasting or reflective surfaces: freshly cut logs, manmade object in a natural setting, going from sunlight into shadow on trails
- wild or unfamiliar domestic animals: dogs with backpacks moose, elk, llamas, emus..........
- narrow or constricted spaces: bridges, gates, tight passages
- unexpected trail obstacles: garbage, fallen trees, flags
What happens when a horse or mule is startled?
- fishing rod looks like a buggy whip.....lets go faster!!!
- the ticking of a bicycle gears sounds like an electric fence charger......zap!
- a bicycle coasting up silently from behind.....predator intend on eating them.....run!
- boisterous dog looks like a wolf.....run!
They have a range of responses from remaining calm to becoming uncontrollable. The more conditioned the animal is to uncomfortable situations, the more likely its response will be subdued. When something makes it nervous an animal may dance around, inadvertently step on things or balk (refuse to go forward). Horses and mules that are severely unnerved may run, jump, spin or do a creative combination of all of these things to protect themselves from perceived danger and even kick, bite or strike. Experienced riders can usually ride and hold a well-trained animal in check but there is a point where the stimulus becomes so great that even the best conditioned animal will not override its innate instinct to flee or fight. All of this can be avoided by the use of some common sense by all users:
- remember the 3 C's of Trail Etiquette, Communication, Common Sense and Courtesy
- be aware of your surroundings
- look ahead
- take care on corners or over hills
- announce yourself if you see someone else on the trail
- slow down and/or stop and shut off your engine if you have one
- give animals extra time to adjust to your presence
- when passing horses or mules, give them extra room by moving off the trail but not hidden from view
- if the trail is narrow and/or has a steep side, move to the downhill side of the trail
- take direction from the rider and ask if you are uncertain what to do