Increase in number of trail incidents cause safety concerns

By Curtis Riggs | December 24, 2008

CAVE CREEK – Several recent incidents involved equestrians having their horses spooked when they encountered walkers, mountain bikers or vehicles on the multi-use Schoolhouse Road trail. Experienced riders and town officials remind everyone about trail safety.

Town of Cave Creek Trail Coordinator Bambi Muller says there are more incidents and near-miss accidents on the Schoolhouse Road trail as opposed to the one on Spur Cross Road because the trail on Schoolhouse is more heavily used.

Common trail etiquette, according to Muller, means hikers and cyclists need to yield to horses and get off the trail whenever they see a horse coming.

“Horses have priority, she said. “Hikers and bike riders need to be prepared to encounter equestrians.”

Rules for the multi-use trails are spelled out on trail signs on both Schoolhouse and Spur Cross roads. She says equestrians should be more cautious near washes and other places where visibility is obscured on trails. Hikers and bikers need to be cautious near these areas as well.

“People who come out of somewhere have to be more aware of what those signs say,” she said.

Equestrians need to know their horses and their limitations well before riding on a trail where they could encounter other trail users and vehicles on the near-by roads, according to Muller.

“A lot of people have more courage than they are prepared for,” she said. People need to consider all the distractions they may encounter out there before taking off riding.

Veteran Cave Creek equestrian Frank Ziskovsky points out horses are just like people when they become startled and are just as prone to jump and run when something surprises them.

“When sharing the trail riders have to be cautious at all times,” he said. “Anything that is fast and unusual can spook a horse.”

Lee Anderson, owner of Spur Cross Stables, uses the cowboy adage of “a rider has to be smarter than his horse.” Equestrians need to ride defensively the same way motorists need to drive that way.

“People need to ride with awareness,” he said. Riders need to show confidence a horse can draw from when a horse becomes tentative around an obstacle.

“At those times a horse needs more confidence and direction from its rider,” he said. “A rider may need to take a few minutes to settle the horse and let it get more confident.”

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area Supervisor John Gunn said there are few problems between equestrians and others on trails at the preserve north of town because equestrians move to rougher more distant trails when they see cyclists.

Gunn added experienced equestrians do not ride on windy days because horses cannot hear as well due to all of the hair in their ears.

“They are hypersensitive to disturbances then,” he said. “That’s a good time not to go riding.”