Now that the snow and ice is finally gone, the Rail Trail is full of users of all kinds.
During the recent warm spell, I was out on horseback almost every day, as the Rail Trail is my only link with the rest of the trails in Pepperell and Groton. Both my horses are used to the bicycles, hikers, roller-bladers, dog walkers and other users, but I am astonished at the few bicyclists who give any warning when they are coming up behind a horse.
People should understand that horses evolved from an animal the size of a fox, and are prey animals -- mountain lions, sabre-toothed tigers, wolves and other carnivores liked to eat them for lunch. That's why the horse's response to something sneaking up quietly behind him is to spook, jump and spin or run.
Many of the bikes that pass us on the Rail Trail are so silent that the horse doesn't hear them coming until they are nearly beside us, and I have had them whiz by so close that if my horse moved a foot or two to the left, my stirrup could get caught on their handlebars.
Etiquette and safety suggest that if you are passing someone, especially coming up from behind, that you call out something: "bicycle coming," "passing on your left," "coming up behind you," ANYTHING. Horses are used to human voices, so that is the best warning system.
A few bicyclists do give warning, and I always thank them. If I am coming up behind a hiker, I will say, "Horse on your left" (or right, depending on direction). Many people, especially those wearing earbuds, don't hear us coming -- even though I have taken to hanging bells around my horse's neck since I met two women who reported seeing a bear and two cubs crossing the Rail Trail one day.
An average riding horse weighs about 1,000 pounds. A collision with one would not be pleasant for anyone. Neither is getting thrown by a startled horse and having a riderless animal head home without you. Please give plenty of advance warning when passing.
The same is true on woods trails. Last fall in the Rich State Forest, I nearly got dumped when a bicycle came up behind us with no warning. My horse took a giant leap forward and I almost tumbled off the back. Use a loud enough voice so that both of us will hear you. A few words could prevent a wreck. Thanks!