Monday, October 18, 2010

Trailhead Psychology

My FarmWife often encounters motorists entering at the logging gate which leads to our local trails, and when she does she goes out of her way to make polite conversation. First, "hello . . . may I pass by?" and then, "thanks—I think I'll hop off and lead my mule past. He can be a little nervous." This is sometimes true, and it doesn't offend me to hear it said out loud. I'd much rather have motorists think they're sharing the road with a reactive flibbertygibbet than a stoic hero, because they're likely going to take it easy when passing the former.

Next, FarmWife always offers this: "Will you be heading up the road? I'll keep an ear out for you." This is a joke, because FarmWife is more than half deaf and couldn't locate a freight train in a railroad tunnel. It does, however, usually elicit this response—"yes, and we'll keep an eye out for you." Good news! I, Fenway Bartholomule, would rather be approached by a driver who rounds the bend thinking, "where can that scaredy-mule have gotten to? He could be anywhere," than a driver who rounds the bend thinking, "yee-haw! Step on it!"

We equines can be reactionary, and even the most stoic among us may not stand up to a speeding vehicle. It is to our benefit when other trail users understand that we can be startled, and that vigilance is warranted when sharing a trail. I don't mind being the poster-boy for vulnerable equines, and I'd rather not be roadkill.

In addition to alerting motorists to our presence, and to our desire for a safe, slow approach, FarmWife likes to thank them for their sensitivity. If a motorcyclist slows, cuts his engine, or removes his helmet, she always offers effusive thanks. "It was SO kind of you to stop. Horses and mules can be frightened of dirt bikes, and it's wonderful for my mule to see that you're not going to hurt him. I really appreciate it!"

A dedicated, equines-only trail system would be nice—it would also be nice if I pooped golden coins. It ain't goin' to happen, though, and there's absolutely no point in arguing with other trail users. Here in Wickersham, we have a handful of mountain bikers, dirt bikers, ATV riders, loggers, and hunters who use the same access roads that FarmWife and I ride up every week. Many of them have come to know me, Fenway Bartholomule. Most of them know that I am a mule who can be startled, sometimes, and that I am a mule who appreciates a slow-and-wide approach. They also know that FarmWife appreciates their care, and that we think they're swell. Ears to them, and ears to you. May your trails be smooth, scenic, and safe.



  1. Sounds like excellent trail etiquette to me :)

    Val and I were just discussing his needing to get a job, but if he could start "pooping gold coins"... LOL!

  2. I do the same thing. I am ridiculously friendly and polite to everyone I meet on the trails, and drivers and bikers are definitely getting used to me.

    I don't mind sharing the trails. It's a lot of work to get a flighty horse desensitized, but it's worth it for various reasons.


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