I call horse shit!
October 31, 2011 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Have you seen a successfully implemented rule requiring horse owners to clean up after their pets?

Another weekend of nice weather in the Bay Area, and another lovely hike. Delightful! But, as usual, in addition to climbing a ridge we also got to climb mountains of horse shit.

I have never had the slightest problem with the idea that I, as a dog owner, am required to clean up my pet's waste. In fact, I think it's a great rule. But I have never seen horse owners even acknowledge that their animals leave behind tremendous amounts of waste--often precisely in the middle of walking thoroughfares or trails. The one time that I asked a person on horseback if he intended to clean up the massive dump his horse was taking at the moment he literally laughed at me.

Leaving aside the notion that maybe horse feces is a special and exalted substance separate from the social standards applied to other fecal matter (or that there is something special about horses that means their owners should not bear responsibility for them), I am struck by the question of how to implement a rule requiring that these people not leave behind large piles of literal horseshit in the exact place that their neighbors and their families are hiking, camping, picnicking, or otherwise lawfully enjoying parks and nature.

So, my question: have this ever been pulled off? Would I be better off putting my energies into trying to get horses banned altogether? Or am I off-base for expecting people to take responsibility for the unsanitary and unpleasant waste produced by their pets?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly to Pets & Animals (25 answers total)
Horse manure doesn't pose the same human health risk that dog poop does.
posted by elsietheeel at 1:01 PM on October 31, 2011 [9 favorites]

A poop-scooping law for horses wouldn't be practicable because: to clean up horseshit requires a shovel or pitchfork or rake, none of which are practicable to carry while riding.

Luckily, horse manure is much less unpleasant than the feces of a carnivore/omnivore like a cat, dog or human. Horseshit is basically just reprocessed grass with the occasional oat in there, and is inoffensive when dry. It is good fertilizer, and people buy it for this purpose.

Here is my suggestion: if there are stables nearby that lead trail rides up that path, you could try to get them to agree to send someone up on foot to sweep the manure off to the sides of the trail once a week or so. If there is more than one stable in the area, they could split the duty between them.

You may or may not succeed at this, but contacting stables (the kind that offer lessons and trail rides) would probably be much more effective than trying to get a regulation imposed on all individual horse owners and/or riders.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:10 PM on October 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

Livestock shitting on trails is neither unsanitary nor unpleasant, and yes, you are off-base for expecting "people to take responsibility for" horse shit while trail riding. Also, horses are livestock, not pets, and most land-management agencies closely regulate trail use by stock. If you are highly offended by horse shit it won't take much looking to find trails where horses are not allowed.
posted by gyusan at 1:10 PM on October 31, 2011 [7 favorites]

Please don't try to get the horses banned; there are many, many other places you can hike where they are not allowed.

I think you are off-base, although I understand that you don't want to walk amidst equine effluvia. Others up-thread are right: it's just not the same as dog poop, for many reasons.
posted by Specklet at 1:13 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Eponysterical. I certainly hope you've composed a strongly worded missive already regarding your concern re: the horses and their recalcitrant valves.

More seriously, you'll maybe interested in this recent article about the waste generated by the carriage horses in and around NYC's Central Park. Cleaning crews come through on a regular basis and the carriages come with diapers, more or less, to catch the worst of it.

The NYC Department of Health's stance is that the waste doesn't pose a health risk - I imagine your local authorities are inclined to agree. You're probably better off advocating for more frequent trail cleanup crews than the banning of all horses entirely.
posted by superfluousm at 1:14 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you'll have better luck getting the horses banned altogether. Are these state parks, city? People in the US tend to be irrational about horses - we can't even eat them!

That, or find trails that are less heavily traveled by horses, and be thrilled that they're generally less stinky and noisy than ATVs. Keep in mind that that land managers have to balance a lot of uses, and yours is just one of them (even if, as we'd agree, hiking is the best, lowest-impact use).
posted by ldthomps at 1:29 PM on October 31, 2011

"Leaving aside the notion that maybe horse feces is a special and exalted substance separate from the social standards applied to other fecal matter"

I can tell you're not a gardener. Horse manure is indeed a special and exalted fertilizer and incidentally is often exempted from local legal requirements about the spreading of poop for plant growth in residential areas. Sure it can be kind of weird to step in, but it doesn't smell, it doesn't stick and it doesn't present a health hazard like most shit does. Some varieties of poop are indeed created more equal than others.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:06 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

There are a lot of trails where horses aren't allowed- hike there.

I, too, am irritated by Bay Area horses, but only because so many of their owners DO view them as pets and allowed them to become pampered, skittish, prima donnas that panic at the sight of a bicycle, as opposed to the sensible working horses I grew up around.

Horse poo is one of the hazards of Bay Area trails, like large groups of old people with those walking poles. Banning them is inappropriate.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:07 PM on October 31, 2011

Just a quick note: I live in Oakland, CA. Not on a cattle ranch. These horses are pets.

And while I love the experience of being told that I am incorrect to find fecal matter unpleasant, I am thankful for the link about the NYC ordinance. It looks like there are local organizations there that have harnessed the sentiment of other crazies like me who don't understand how rusticly delightful horse shit it.

And to be clear, I don't think banning horses because horse owners have a poor sense of social responsibility is a good idea, any more than I would like dogs banned because of the obnoxious dog owners who don't clean up after them. I will say, though, that the reactions in this thread underscore for me the sense of entitlement I've always felt from horse owners.

On preview: I am a gardener. I don't garden in city streets or on hiking trails. I am sure that horse feces is simply wonderful, but I wonder why it's the one form of fecal matter that people think it's ok to inflict on others against their will. Can I spray fish emulsion all over my neighborhood because it's good fertilizer?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 2:10 PM on October 31, 2011

I got the italics wrong ^. That last sentence graf was mine as well.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 2:11 PM on October 31, 2011

In effect, a lot of the Bay Area parks ARE cattle ranches -they've been leased out, though the horses you're complaining about are almost certainly not working on them.

Parks are going to have mud, dirt, & poo, (horse and other). NYC is urban. The comparison is not apt.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:16 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wonder why it's the one form of fecal matter that people think it's ok to inflict on others against their will.

1) It doesn't carry diseases.
2) It dissolves in one rain.
3) It is good for the environment.
4) It's impractical to pick up.

I would say the entitlement is all yours. Like I say, I have no particular horse love, but sharing the trails is part of the deal.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:19 PM on October 31, 2011 [7 favorites]

I hike (starting before dawn, in the pitch black) in the hills above LA amongst horse droppings (so I've stepped on them in the dark) and I think you should redefine your perspective on this substance. It's just not that bad.

Also, hike in waterproof shoes you don't mind getting a bit dirty and hosing down afterward.

Problem solved.
posted by jbenben at 2:34 PM on October 31, 2011

Thanks for the hiking tips, but that wasn't really the question. I hike in hiking boots and usually step in things far worse than horse feces. I don't think horse shit will make me ill, and I am quite sure that your lovely horse's shit doesn't stink.

My question was about whether it was realistic to ask horse owners to take responsibility for their pets--the answer to that appears to be "no."
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 2:39 PM on October 31, 2011

Well, given you framed this as a problem you have with "pets", which are regulated quite differently from "livestock", I'm not sure what sort of answers you expect. Going into a question fighty isn't necessarily productive.

As a trail advocate in my hometown, I feel qualified to weigh in. Some trails are hiking only. Some trails are multi-use. Some may allow dogs, some may not. Some may be horse trails (we don't have any public trails like that around here, though). I know that trail users often have conflicts. The bike trail that runs through city parks is a no-dogs trail half the year because the parks are. This is good, because dogs on leashes and cyclists at speed are fairly incompatible uses. You can't get some dog-owners to listen to reason about this, though. Their dog is well-behaved and would never chase or bite a cyclist, let alone accidentally get in their way.

There are also issues with mountain bikes on hiking trails. We have a city-owned arboretum that has fairly permissive mountain-biking, even though the mountain bikers have their own singletrack trails in another city park. A hiking trail (the Ice Age Trail) was recently extended through this arboretum to connect a new segment, and while local trail people were going to be agnostic about its use by cyclists, bang! right in the middle of the final day of work, a bunch of mountain bikers blew through, prompting the state IATA guys to break out the no-bikes signage that wouldn't have gone up otherwise. The point being, a lot of effort went into building that trail and mountain bikes could destroy some of that work by creating erosion problems. Still, the problem is that we need to have good relations with the mountain bikers for the times that we go to the city or the state and ask for money.

It's the same way with horses. Horse trail users are a source of public support for trails, and from a trail-building and trail-extending standpoint, if you can get more people to stand with you then you try to do it. Sometimes that means a level of tolerance, as with those "groups of old people with those walking poles" sometimes being in the way, or the paved bike trail users following road rules and keeping right so that cyclists don't have to slow down to kiddy-trike speed for every walker, the dog-owners being satisfied with the off-leash area half the year, and so on. To my view, the horse riding community would seem like on balance an important ally for public open space and trail access advocacy, especially in the current funding and libertarian-castle-doctrine environment. Thus, even if I had to occasionally deal with some horse poop on so-designated trails, I'd consider them on my side and try not to go all icky-banny on them. That's my perspective, and I think a pretty valid and thought-through one.
posted by dhartung at 3:12 PM on October 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

oh man... for what it's worth I feel your pain. This exact issue has blown up into a huge argument recently here around Boulder between horses, hikers and mountain bikers.

The thing is, due to a very complex combination of politics, tradition, wealth, privilege and backing, horses are all over most recreational open space, and are here to stay.

Let me be clear on 2 things. I am a former horse owner and trainer, and current horse lover, and will probably be a horse owner again someday, assuming appropriate land and income to keep them. But their owners drive me nuts, and I wish there were more education on the matter.

Horses are, indeed and for all intents in the modern American recreational landscape, pets.

Not to mention the fact that they're pets which frequently carry invasive species seed in their manure onto the trails. So yea, good for the environment, my left foot. Horse manure is the most common current vector for invasive species in open space, if the current BCPOS reports are to be believed.

In our neck of the woods it's a combination of tradition, entitlement and angst that's creating our most recent trails access slapfight. It's primarily based on the fact that horses are allowed freaking EVERYWHERE, and mountain bikers are allowed basically nowhere, and hikers are getting the short end from all sides (they hate stepping in crap, and don't like being "buzzed" by mountain bikers). So it's a problem.

The problem with the OP's proposal is that, as noted earlier, picking up after horses is logistically really freaking hard. And, depending on your demographic of horse owners, it can be political suicide to bother enforcing any sort of policy.

As a former horse owner myself, someone who lived with and still loves horses very much to this day, I can say without reservation that to the uninitiated (and even to folks who love them) they tend to be big, smelly, scary, uptight, easily-spooked animals that (particularly when shod, and ridden in muddy conditions) will wreak absolute destructive havoc on most trail systems.

And the thing that drives most responsible hiking and mountain biking trail societies absolutely batshit livid about this is that most horse councils are invariably the least invested in volunteer man-hours on public lands (meaning: mitigation, cleanup and trail maintenance), despite being one of the main offenders on erosion and weed propagation. It's really hard to solicit any interest from a bunch of wealthy 14-year-old girls and their moms to do 6 hour shifts of basically slave labor in the hot sun multiple days a year. For whatever reason the Sierra Club and IMBA have no problem getting this done; IMBA a little more so than the rest, but you know, demographics.

At least around here, the demographic for horse owners skews radically towards the young, the female, and the pretty well off, and their parents are very well-connected in local government. So dunno what it's like out there but around here, my feeling is that the horses and their attendant issues will continue to be everywhere.

When I rule the world, things will be different. Horses, hikers, and mountain bikers will all have equal access to NON-shared trails (they each get their own, and have to maintain it or lose it) on public lands, and user conflicts will be a thing of the unenlightened past.

my .02, worth what you just paid for it.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:24 PM on October 31, 2011 [6 favorites]

East Bay Regional Parks have a mounted patrol unit. If you're talking about anything under their jurisdiction, you are not going to get horses banned. Nor are you going to get anyone to pick it up- because most people don't care about plant material on the trail.
Keep in mind that there were horses on the trails here long before hikers. Most of the EB Parks were private ranchos.

Not to mention the fact that they're pets which frequently carry invasive species seed in their manure onto the trails. So yea, good for the environment, my left foot. Horse manure is the most common current vector for invasive species in open space, if the current BCPOS reports are to be believed.

The hills around here were invaded by oat grass when California was under Spanish rule. I agree that this is a problem in sensitive areas, but in the East Bay Hills it is pretty much a moot point.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:34 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

So, equestrian here, and one who often trail-rides. I'm not going to try and convince you that my horse's poop doesn't smell. :)

What I will do is talk about why it's impractical to the point of nigh-impossibility to create a law that requires horse owners to stoop and scoop. People have covered the primary reasons that a scoop law for horses doesn't exist but does for dogs; the lack of health concerns, the extremely rapid bio-degradation of it, and the fact that it's actively good for the soil, so I'm not going to get into that.

First off, there's the practicality of containing, bagging, and carrying out horse poop. :) Horses poop a couple of pounds at a time, and they poop multiple times. This is because horses evolved to have a highly mobile gut, as they walk and eat and walk and eat and walk and eat. Dogs and humans evolved to eat distinct meals of highly bioavailable food, so we tend to poop once or twice a day. Horses eat grass and leaves, neither of which are highly concentrated foods, so they are going to be passing a lot of undigested or poorly digested plant materials. This is why birds *love* horse poop -- they get all kinds of lovely seeds out of it. Thinking about my last trail ride, I'd probably have had to deal with 10-15 pounds of manure (I ride a draft horse and his poops are correspondingly big), which would have necessitated a big black garbage bag. Which, if you think about it, is putting extremely biodegradable, non-health hazard waste into a bag so it can go into a landfill where it's not available to species that forage food from it.

Second, as a rider on a multi-use trail, my absolute number one concern is safety. Keeping my horse safe from people and dogs, and keeping those people and dogs safe from my horse. The number of people who have no idea how to behave around 1000+ pound prey animals never ceases to amaze me. The fact is that I have much better control of my horse when I am mounted than when I am on the ground. My guy is a very phlegmatic horse who has done costumed Halloween parades, horseback caroling, and other activities that require a chill attitude and even *he* has been taken aback by what people allow their dogs/children/hiking partners to do. Things like running up to him screaming/barking, grabbing at his face without asking, coming right up behind him with little to no warning, etc. Luckily, his version of spooking is usually to stand stock still and wait for me to protect him. If I needed to dismount every time he pooped in order to either clean it up or even just kick it off the trail, that's time where I can't be watching what's going on around us and controlling the situation.

It's not a matter of responsibility, or at least not in the way you're looking at it. Horses aren't simply dogs scaled up -- they're an entirely different species that needs different management. Me taking responsibility for my horse is keeping him calm and thus the public safe -- the predator ways of people and dogs can be quite threatening to a horse, even though the size difference is so big. When I am mounted he can feel the tiniest shifts of weight and body language, which I use to reassure him when he's nervous or uncertain.

All riding trails end up being multi-use trails because you really can't keep hikers and dog-walkers off of them. I have a bad knee because a guy was walking his unleashed, uncontrolled, and not-horse-savvy dog on a bridle trail. His dog literally attacked the horse I was riding at them time, and my horse ended up rearing, tipping over, and landing on my leg. The response in the equestrian community was not 'ban all dogs', even though just about every equestrian I know has a story about a run-in with a dog on the trail. We all have to live together on the trails because we all love being out in nature -- the riders put up with barking and growling dogs (even on leash!), and the dog walkers put up with horse poop.
posted by Concolora at 3:46 PM on October 31, 2011 [11 favorites]

Keep in mind that there were horses on the trails here long before hikers. Most of the EB Parks were private ranchos.

bingo. There's the combo of politics, entitlement and tradition I was just referring to.

It was this way where I've lived in Southern Ohio, Central Maryland, and out here in the Front Range as well. With the main variable being that the Central Maryland foxhunting clubs were super-duper invested in education and volunteering man-hours to keep trails well-maintained because they were highly motivated to keep PETA off their backs and their public image shiny.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:47 PM on October 31, 2011

To answer your question as asked, in the old section of Montreal there are horse-drawn carriages - cal├Ęches - whose rules include the collection of their own horse's poo off the streets, and from what I've observed, they actually carry a bucket and shovel hooked underneath and the drivers do get down and do this. But these horses share streets with regular motor traffic, so the situation is not comparable.
posted by zadcat at 3:47 PM on October 31, 2011

Horse diapers.
posted by iviken at 5:11 PM on October 31, 2011

Different perspective: my wife has horses (Oxfordshire in southern England) and is part of a local community of horse-owners. Everybody seems to ride in the local villages and nobody seems to be bothered by the droppings. It is of course possible that local gardeners are avidly collecting the piles to put on their roses. OTOH the penalties for not cleaning up after your dog (which we also have) are medieval in their severity.

Horse diapers are impracticable for a riding horse. Carriage horses in Vienna have diapers; in Dublin they don't. I have some familiarity with horse-shit at close range and god knows what some of those Dublin carriage drivers are feeding their horses--some of it is eye-watering. Nobody cleans it up in Dublin.

The position re "good for the environment" is a bit nuanced. It does not dissolve in one rain--I've picked up enough that's been around fora few days in rainy England to know. Yes it's a fertiliser, but--nitrates, anyone? in large volume, horse and other farm animal manure, stable sweepings etc is regarded as a pollutant in Europe and regulated tightly. Relatively small amounts on a trail are probably environmentally neutral--not harmful but not particularly beneficial either. As to seeds, enough animal feed is probably imported that foreign weed seeds in it are quite possible. Not all the seeds in a bag of oats are oats, after all--this is how skeleton weed arrived in Australia. Even with the best cleaning that is commercially practicable, some weed seeds are going to sneak in.

On balance--it's a judgement call. Cleaning up after each horse is thoroughly impractical, for all the reasons already given. Cleaning up after a club ride is practicable, if you can get the club to do it, but good luck with that.
posted by Logophiliac at 9:54 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have to agree, horse poop on hiking trails is a battle you aren't going to win. I'm not a huge fan of the stuff, and I recoil in disgust when I see it on city streets. But at the track or out in nature? You are going to have to deal. Maybe the horse owners feel entitled to let their horses shit about, but they likely see your request that the trails be manure-free as equally entitled.
posted by gjc at 6:35 AM on November 1, 2011

I live in a national park that has a stable of about 300 horses at peak season. In urban areas a team of three come by on pickup truck (one driving, one sweeping, one shovelling) at the end of each day to clean up any of the mess. What you care about is a hiking trail though, and we have problems with that as well. The solution has been that on popular hiking trails, horses get their own trail (they can take a prolonged pitch and rougher trail anyways) with minimum crossover, except in the real back country where often enough (once the spring mud has cleared) hikers are thankful to be on a horse trail anyways, at least until it leads through a swamp.
posted by furtive at 7:50 PM on November 6, 2011

Oh, and horse manure turns into left over straw once it rains, so it's really not as bad as dog poo, except for the volume.
posted by furtive at 7:50 PM on November 6, 2011

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