Originally published March 11, 2015 written by the BIHORA executive
With spring just around the corner, many of us will be looking forward to taking greater advantage of the beautiful trails that meander through the parks here on Bowen Island, including Crippen Regional Park, Quarry Park and Headwaters Park as well as some of the unfinished Trans-Island trails and other unofficial trails that criss-cross the island. For those who like a more strenuous hike, there are also the trails on Mount Gardner which can be accessed from a few different points at the base of the mountain.
During the summer months, thousands of tourists flock to Bowen Island reawakening it from winter’s slumber, and come to enjoy not only the island life, but also the many wonderful events that are held during the summer months. Throughout the seasons, there are those who live and visit the island regularly who already enjoy the winding trails and wildlife that the forests have to offer, however with the influx of tourists and visitors to the island, trails become much busier than many people are used to. The trails accommodate a broad spectrum of users and includes hikers, cyclists, runners, strolling families as well as dog walkers, horse riders and children with ponies. Throughout Crippen Regional Park alone, there are 12.5km available for walkers and runners, 5km available for horse riders and cyclists.
So, with the wide variety of users on the trails and the surge of visitors to the island during the summer months, how do we keep our outdoor experiences, and those of others, enjoyable and safe?
Both Crippen Regional Park and Quarry Park have multi-use trail signs at the trail-heads. Signs show that cyclists should yield to walkers and horses, and walkers yield to horses. Trailhead signs for Crippen Regional Park, Mount Gardner, Quarry Park and Headwaters Park also clearly indicate that all dogs should be leashed.
Unfortunately over the last couple of months there has been a significant rise in the number of unleashed and uncontrolled dogs chasing horses and, to a lesser extent, runners and cyclists. So far, thankfully, no serious harm has come about because of these incidents. However, the chase drive in some dogs can be very strong and unless they are well trained and obedient to the recall command, chasing runners, cyclists and horses albeit fun for the dog, can have a potentially serious outcome. In fact, herding breeds have a tendency to want to nip at the heels of things they chase including horses who in turn, kick out at whatever is chasing them which can result in a serious injury.
Horses are prey animals, with a natural survival instinct to flee from stressful situations. For the horse this could be a loud noise, a dog running toward them barking, or a cyclist unintentionally sneaking up from behind. Horses can be trained to deal with fearful situations and to depend on the rider for leadership, however, no amount of training can totally suppress a horse’s survival mechanism which may include striking out with its feet, or lashing out with its teeth when it feels under threat. If a dog starts barking and running toward a horse, a horse will either try to run or defend itself by using the only things it has available, its feet or teeth, which can have potentially serious consequences for everyone involved. When a runner or a cyclist approaches a horse from behind, it is a good idea to say something to the rider, to make both horse and rider aware you are there. If taken by surprise, a horse can easily spook and may unseat its rider.
So, what can horse riders, children with ponies and dog walkers do to prevent a case of predator chasing prey? First of all, dog walkers are asked to follow the trail signs, and keeping dogs on a leash where required. Dog walkers should also yield the right-of-way to equestrians, say hello so riders (and horses!) know you are there, and keep your dog close, quiet and under control as horses pass by. To reduce what could be a frightening situation for a horse or pony, it is not advisable for people with dogs to hide behind trees or bushes, as this action is exactly what a predator would do when getting ready to attack a prey animal, and it is more likely to scare the equine than encourage it to pass quietly. Horse riders understand that not every dog has met a horse before, and are very happy to stop and wait for dog owners to get their dogs under control in order for the horse to pass safely. We all want to enjoy our island’s beautiful forest trails, and we can all do this if we respect everyone around us and follow trail etiquette.
Over the summer there are many sporting events held on Bowen and on the mainland, and for those of us who like to participate in these, the on island trails bring out those who like to train for these, be it running, cycling or horse riding. Bowen Island Horse Owners and Riders Association (BIHORA), in collaboration with any interested runners and cyclists, are hoping to hold a triathlon later in the year, with teams made up of a horse rider, runner and a cyclist. We hope that those interested will take advantage of the wonderful trails on Bowen and the event will be as much fun as it will be competitive.