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Yay or Neigh: Is It Proper Etiquette for Horses to Poop on Hiking Trails?

If you’ve ever hiked on a trail that also allows horses, there’s a good chance you’ve come across horse manure. While multiple signs usually remind you to clean up after your dog, horse poop on trails seems to get a pass. 

Many mixed-use trails bring together hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. While most of the time, the three groups peacefully enjoy the harmony of nature, occasionally, they butt heads. The waste horses leave behind is often the largest complaint against horseback riders sharing trails. 

However, horseback riders get away with leaving a mess. Why? Here’s what you need to know.

Is It Dangerous or Unhealthy?

The good news is health officials say horse manure is relatively “clean.” This means there are few bacteria or viruses in horses’ waste, especially when you’re talking about concerns over pathogens that harm humans, like Giardia and E. coli. 

This information comes from the Wissahickon Trails organization outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that oversees local trails. The organization says horse poop is safe to be left outdoors, especially when compared to dog waste, which is very toxic and carries lots of bacteria. 

horses pooping on trail
A horseback rider in Colorado. (Source: Getty Images/ amygdala_imagery)

Is It Good Trail Etiquette?

While there aren’t many health concerns about leaving horse poop on hiking trails, what about trail etiquette?

Unfortunately, cleaning up after a horse is not as easy as a dog. It’s an even bigger issue if the rider is miles from a trailhead. 

According to American Trails, an organization that works to develop new trails and greenways, there are a lot of rules within the community. While these are not official laws, they guide the horseback community’s principles.

The guidelines say equestrians must clean up after their animals in a parking lot if the surface is paved or gravel. However, if it’s dirt, the manure can stay. People are encouraged to spread it out for the benefit of other visitors. 

While on a trail, horseback riders will generally leave it. The waste will break down in about two weeks and can benefit birds and insects while decomposing. 

dog hiking gear

Whether you like it or not, these are the guidelines for horses on a trail. Do you agree with the status quo? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. Linda Watkins

    I don’t know anything about horses, but can a rider tell when they will poop? Could they then walk the horse off the trail?

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