We recently received a great question from a landscape architect teamed with us on an equestrian project. We’re glad he asked the question, and thought the answer might be interesting for others contemplating adding a bridge to their landscape.
Q: Can you ride horses across a bridge? Is it a bad idea? Do they get spooked? Working on rerouting a trail on a project and considering bringing it over a river with a bridge, but people do ride horses on the trail, so not sure if that’s a bad idea. Any thoughts? Thanks!
A: Good question. It would be best if bridges could be avoided as you just never know when a horse is going to get spooked by something and then just take off in whatever direction it chooses.
But, that said, horses can be safely ridden across solidly built bridges. If the bridge is to be used frequently, the rider should introduce the horse to the bridge calmly so it has the ability to feel comfortable about the situation and get used to it. Over time, the bridge will be no big deal.
There are several conditions that should be considered:
1. Width and length of the bridge. If it’s too narrow for two horses to keep a safe distance apart – say less than 12 ft for two way traffic – it may be dangerous.
2. The bridge surface should be slip resistant (leaves in the Fall can be very slippery, as can wet wood after a rain) and the incline not too steep. Also, horses can spook at the sound of water rushing underneath them, as well as the “hollow” sound of the bridge when they first step onto it. Again, horses will become accustomed to the bridge after continued safe passage, but they’ll need time to build trust in the structure.
3. Railings along the sides should protect the horse and rider should the horse decide to take off. About 5 ft would be a minimum height.
4. Consider all other users of the bridge or bridle path. If it could be limited to just horse and rider it would be best. Bikers and runners or vehicles can spook a horse.
5. Provide a roundabout option – a safe place to cross the stream – if a horse says absolutely “NO WAY.”
To conclude, adding a bridge to a farm’s landscape really depends on the structure and surrounding grounds and landscaping. A horse needs to have good visibility on the approach to, while on the bridge and view down the bridle path as it comes off the bridge.