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What to Do with Horse Poo

By Lora Goerlich

Trail apples - the organic, naturally beneficial, digested balls of vegetation that inevitably host nourishing insect meals for birds and game fowl while also providing valuable minerals for a myriad of insects including rare butterflies and dragonflies. On unimproved trail tread, manure will break down in about two weeks with a little help from sun, rain, dung beetles, foraging birds and other scavengers. AND unlike tacky, foul-smelling human or dog feces (which are more frequently found trailside) horse manure is not considered hazardous or toxic and carries no pathogens of concern[1]


Manure on trails, at staging areas and camp sites is unavoidable. Knowing when to take it or kick it can be confusing for both equestrians and non-equestrians. Park agencies/staff may not understand what to expect from riders and may not have established or posted clear guidelines. Unless otherwise posted, the standards listed below are appropriate expectations for riders:

 

Horse manure at parking areas

1. Trailer manure – take it home, do not toss trailer manure into the woods, fields, parking lots or pile it around the base of trees.  

2. Grass or dirt parking lot - if your horse has a bowel movement while tied to a hitching post or while tied to your trailer and there is grass or soil beneath their hooves, leave it but consider spreading it out.

3. Gravel parking lot - horse has a bowel movement while tied to a hitching post or while tied to your trailer and there is gravel beneath their hooves, take the manure home.

4. Paved parking lots – take manure home; hopefully there aren’t many concrete or asphalt parking areas for trail riders since they tend to be slippery which can create unnecessary hazards.

5. Manure bin is provided - use it. Manure bins at day use areas are not as common as they are at equestrian campgrounds.

 

Horse manure on *natural trail tread - shared and exclusive trails

1. Leave it - in about two weeks it will breakdown benefitting birds, game fowl and insects during decomposition.

2. At trailside rest stops - scatter piles with your foot before remounting.

 

Horse manure at camp sites

1. Authorized manure bin or bunker is available - use it. Meticulously remove all the manure, uneaten hay, and bedding where your horse was kept.

2. No collection bin - load all manure, uneaten hay and bedding into muck buckets or your trailer, then take it home and add it to your own manure pile. On average for 1 horse + 2 nights camping = 1 mucket bucket full. Always bring extra muck buckets on away trips, you never know when you might need them. (For areas that are not USDA Wilderness Areas)

3. Back country (wilderness) camping and packing on USDA land - Forest Service guidelines require removal or scattering. Always check guidelines before camping in these areas.

 

Horse manure on shared-paved trails does not break down as fast as it will on natural tread. Hard paved trails aren’t the most ideal for equestrians. They are often linear, somewhat narrow rail trails, shared and frequently used by high-speed cyclists, inline skaters, hikers with or without dogs and/or strollers. There is only one option for horse manure on these trails.

  1. Dismount, then kick it off the trail:

    • Cannot re-mount from the ground - ask a fellow rider to assist; the rider on the shortest horse or the most agile rider often gets this duty.

    • Riding alone and cannot re-mount from the ground - consider choosing routes that   don't include shared/paved trails especially if you know your horse is prone to leaving manure on certain paved sections.

    • Finding manure someone else left behind - whether you are hiking, biking or horseback riding, remove it if you can; push it off the trail with your foot. Count this time as volunteer time if there is a way to do that.

Park personnel should consider strategic placement of mounting blocks in high use areas along paved trails for those who cannot remount from the ground. Mounting blocks could be as simple as a sturdy tree trunk section (wide, heavy, level and water resistant); a prefabricated, easy to maintain, molded rubber step; or as elaborate as a park approved permanent structure.

 

Additional considerations from thirty-four+ years of park work and riding experiences - Riders are usually aware when their horse makes trail deposit, especially if their horse stops to do its business, the sound of manure landing on pavement is hard to miss. Is it really a big deal to leave manure on paved trails? Yes, it is a “big deal”. The greenish brown, heaping piles are repulsive to non-equestrians, not to mention someone else must clean now up after you (your horse). Even when manure on paved/multiuse trails is rare, it enrages cyclists the most, who, in turn, rally against equestrians, especially when complaints arise about cyclist’s dangerous behavior around horses. Common sense tells us that comparing trail manure to dangerous cyclist behavior is illogical; they are completely unrelated issues. Unfortunately, non-equestrians often prevail when this argument (often heated) arises, potentially leading to exclusion in new and existing trail opportunities for horse riders. Stop adding fuel to this issue by taking action. 

 

Many riders insist their horse stays moving while having a bowel movement, but a big pile of trail manure is more beneficial to insects, which means the manure will break down much faster. There isn’t enough cover within the single pieces laced along the trail. On leisurely trail rides (I’m not talking about competitive riding events) give your horse a break and let him/her stop to have a bowel movement - it’s better for bugs.

 

Should you encourage your horse to move off the trail for potty breaks?  No! Stepping off the trail into the woods or field could damage surrounding flora and fauna. Ground bird nests are nearly invisible as are most trail hazards such as venomous snakes, animal dens, mine shafts, old underground tanks or ground nesting yellow jackets. The best place for horse manure and urine is on the trail tread.

 

Most non-equestrians will probably never truly understand the importance of horse manure. Frequent bowel movements that are the correct color and consistency are a welcome sight for horse keepers and can indicate that the horse is healthy and is not suffering from a potentially deadly bout of colic or bowel impaction. 

 

 

[1] Adda Quinn “Does Horse Manure Pose a Significant Risk to Human Health?” https://www.bayequest.com/static/pdf/manure.pdf, March 1998, R.3 October 2001, (Accessed December 8, 2013)

*Natural tread trails have not been improved entirely and mostly consist of soil (dirt, clay sand etc.).

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