Our trail network in southeast PA always had boggy areas, but with the warming climate and attendant heavier rains, they have gotten markedly worse. I’ve hiked on some pedestrian trails that go through boggy areas on bog bridges, and I’ve even ridden on some although I’m not sure they were intended for equestrians. I’d like to hear from anyone who has experience with these on horse trails: how they are constructed, and whether there are problems with them for horses.
A park I used to live near had a bog bridge. Some of the trails were marked for equestrian use but the bog bridge trail had big signs about no horses. Some local idiot thought they didn’t apply to them and took off on the bog bridge trail. It took hours for the local firefighters to extricate the horse from 4 feet of mud when it either jumped or fell off the bridge.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that the park stopped allowing equestrians within a year of the incident.
I would never trust a bog bridge to hold under my horse. They’re build for pedestrians, not 1000lb animals walking on 4 small pressure points. The bog bridges I’ve walked on aren’t even made wide enough for a four-wheeler, so as to be uninviting to anyone but a walker.The closeness to the solid looking ground invites a horse to step off, and the long narrow length creates an increasing sense of claustrophobia that might mean you make if halfway and then unceremoniously depart into the bog when your horse looks at a heron and slips off.
Heck, my dogs have fallen off the damn thing. The ground looked solid. They saw a squirrel and were over the edge before I realized. They’re small and always on a leash so I hauled them back out, but they were utterly shocked that they landed in mud up to their chests and were stuck.
TL;DR - do not take your horse on a bog bridge.
Thanks for this anecdote, Rider. Clearly bog bridges should not be used where a misstep off to the side mires a horse in 4’ of muck. There you’d need a conventional bridge or ideally, a re-route of the trail if allowable. I was thinking more of spots where the muck would be 1’ deep or less: places that are unpleasant for riders without the boards, especially when churned up by many hooves, but not dangerous. Also I see no reason they couldn’t be made wider for horses. My horse was able to negociate one in Hibernia Park that I believe was two 12" boards (with a small space < 1" between) wide, but three 12" wide boards would have been more comfortable. Two inch wide boards set on 4 X 6" crosspieces are used in many equestrian bridges and are plenty strong to carry horses. Maybe a railing is needed as well.
I’d like to hear if this has been tried anywhere, so some of our trails that are dismally mucky much of the year could be brought back into use.
I rode across several that where on trails in Riley Horse Camp (Mt Hood, OR). They were made from very thick looking planks and were at least 3 ft wide. If I remember right the planks were laid down on top of small logs (I’d guess the logs were set at about 8 ft intervals). They had small cross boards so a horse wouldn’t slip, and no railing. They worked really well, but at the beginning and ending of several you’d find a pretty boggy hole from horses stepping on and off. I guess there wasn’t enough room to span the entire wetland area.
There were also a couple of actual bridges and they were easily 6 ft wide with high rails.
Contact the local park and ask if there is a liaison as well as any groups who work WITH the park to maintain and even build trails. Volunteer to get involved and put in a plug for equestrian bridges on these trails. Try and get other riders to show up on trail maintenance/clearing days. If you can’t physically do the work, then be an organizer, donate breakfast donuts and coffee to the volunteers, bring pizza when the work is done, etc.
This is a bridge built with equestrians in mind.
I admit it, I had to look up what a bog bridge is.
They certainly do not look like something a horse should be ridden across if there is a risk of getting stuck if they slip off the edge. Very narrow.
Edit to add - I am not sure I would walk on a bog bridge and not fall off with no horse. Laugh.
A good trail horse could go across a narrow pedestrian bog bridge OK but it’s not a good idea for general use.
There is no reason you couldn’t build bog bridges to equestrian standards as in the photo above. In our climate that includes having rubber treads over the boards because slimy moss.
That said in our suburbs/ exurbs the various parks boards tend to go with engineering very built sandy gravel equestrian trails with wooden bridges as needed. This is PNW so bog abounds. I’ve never heard the term bog bridge, I’ve always referred to them as board walks (because they often continue for much longer and more curvy than a bridge)
At my home barn we have built up gravel trails through an actual cedar bog that has some seriously dangerous swamp ponds. But horses aren’t allowed on the smaller pedestrian trails that do incorporate board walks or bog bridges.
On an off property trail near a big wilderness park but outside park boundaries, I rode on a trail system maintained by volunteers. On one stretch someone had thrown down lengths of saplings ( maybe 6 inch diameter) crossways over a muddy section of trail. That’s what they used to call a corduroy road back in logging days in the 1890s! I was dubious but the horses walked over it no problem, it was very stable.
There is a trail alongside the freeway in Burnaby BC (some people may know it) and horses use it - Severall years ago two young riders were riding there and a horse stepped off the trail into the bog (very real bog) and tragically one rider died. So don’t go anywhere dubious.
At the ocean near the airport there is a nice spot that we can gallop on if the tide is low - my companion galloped over a sandy part tht had a lot of vegetation on it and her horse sunk in up to his hocks - I just about had a heart attack and could not go out there - fortunately her horse was a very powerful Welsh cob and got himself back onto firm sand.
I’ve learned to be very respectful of footing.
I actually had a horse fall off a bridge like this in Jacobsburg State Park in eastern PA, except the bridge did not have the small side rails.
We were about halfway across the bridge when a mountain biker came around a corner and directly at us. My horse turned sideways to turn around to get away from the mountain bike, and her back end fell off the bridge. She tried to jump forward and we eventually ended up on the other side of the bridge, with her lying on her side on top of my left leg. Luckily the wet area under the bridge was soft and my leg missed all the larger rocks. My horse cut and scraped her legs, but she was okay in the end.
After that I usually avoided those bridges unless it was absolutely necessary.
Most parks in eastern PA have boards in the parking areas and at the trailheads. Many times they will tell you if the bridges are intended for equine use. But, when in doubt, call park management.
Scary! Goes to show that we can train ourselves, our horses, bicyclists (who really are natural allies) and you can still have something go wrong because…life.
Glad neither of you were badly hurt. I bet the bicyclist was a bit flipped out at the scene too.
We had a pack horse pull another one off a bridge like the “good one” example shown. The breakaway string, didn’t break. It was a muddy wreck but we all got out of it eventually.
I’ve crossed “bog bridges” in trail obstacle courses without issue. I wouldn’t be thrilled about crossing one ‘in the wild’ where my horse and I are both likely to be several hours into a long day’s ride, and not on our game necessarily. Does that make sense?
We have bog bridges all over the place here in Indiana. They are a part of the horse trails, so yes, horses are allowed. They are normal, although equestrians do warn each other if their horse isn’t broke to bridges. I am sure a horse can spook and fall off a bog bridge, and I will get off and lead a green horse, as well as practice on a bridge at home first, but anyone who refuses to cross one has probably never done any hill riding. Nobody seems to worry about falling down a ravine on a narrow trail.
They were all over the place in the nearby park when I lived in Massachusetts. They were more for what you are intending, OP – a foot of boggy ground. IF you got off one, your horse’s legs got nasty up to the fetlock, but nothing else happened. The horses quickly learned to appreciate them, even my horse with a doctorate in Spookery.
The mountain biker was really upset. He had no idea we were there (there were 4 of us total, and I just happened to be out front), and he was just pedaling along doing his thing.
Funny thing was that I rode in that park frequently, and the mountain bikers there were some of the most considerate trail users out there. We would encounter them as we were coming downhill and they were going uphill, and we would offer to get off the trail so they could pass since they were working harder going uphill. Most of the time, they would insist on dismounting their bikes and letting us pass.
Now the Paulinskill Trail in north New Jersey, mountain bikers would be riding in your horse’s tail before you could blink!
This USDA publication has some advice on bridges and horses: https://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/htmlpubs/htm07232816/page09.htm
“Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads, and Campgrounds”
I have often ridden with a bell on a breastplate for exactly that reason. Fewer surprises (and it makes the fanged horse-eating bunnies freeze too).
If in doubt, get off and walk (in mud boots). If you get stuck, your horse can pull you out. If your horse gets stuck, you are out of luck. I’m from South Florida. Lots of swampland. I was trotting along one time and the ground looked mossy but firm. Until my horse sank. Her nose hit the ground in front of her.
Lucky for us she was very good at spinning on her hind legs.
If I’m crossing questionable footing, I will walk it first. Use or bring mud boots.
Sometimes it means riding back barefoot, with my boots tied around the horn.
I’m not a fan of questionable footing unless I am certain I can cross it safely.
We have tons of bridges like the one pictured in Morgansercu’s post. I cross at least a couple every time I ride. The main problem I have with them here in the swampy/humid mid-Atlantic, is that grow that slippery moss/mildew film on them when it’s damp (which is like all the time) and if you add that to cold weather- you get icy, slippery mildew. I have ridden some of the bog bridges that were clearly okay for horses but in general, I’d stay off them
We have had many adventures with bridges similar to the one above though often not nearly so nice… and over extremely not nice terrain. In the middle of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness we came across one that was about 100 yards long, through a veritable swamp, and my husband was riding a tall hot panic-prone NSH that didn’t like the look of the bridge nor the swamp so he split the difference and for the entire length of the bridge he kept his front half on the bridge and his back half in the swamp and just powered through! :lol: My husband was like omg…horse. We had a whole string of horses and the kids following and I think all of us had the same reaction. That horse was a bit of a drama queen :lol:
We almost always choose not to go over a bridge if the ground/creek is horse friendly but they are a part of the trail systems here.
Any bridge meant primarily for people is probably a horse trap in disguise.