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Do you ever worry about bears?

I was wondering, when you go trail riding, does anyone worry about bears? Is bringing bear spray a common thing to do? I’m just going to be getting back into trail riding at my barn in the back of their property- it’s not as humanized as some of the trails Ive ridden on in the past, so I wonder if bear spray is something I need to take with me? Or am I being absolutely paranoid?

We have resident bears in the suburban park where our horses live and ride. The horses may spook but the bears have never approached a horse under saddle. I would not worry.

I have considered best spray for loose dogs, but it’s actually apparently harder to squirt without blinding yourself than you’d think.

A cattle dog and bear bells could help.

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Black bears? I never worry about them, and my riding is on rarely-hiked trails through the woods. They have been known to wander through our pasture, too, and I’ve seen no sign that the horses care. (They may be responsible for some of the alarm calls from the llamas, though.)

Now I do worry about them going after our chickens, as several small flocks along our road have been lost to them, so I take precautions there (electric fence around nighttime quarters).


We’ve got black bears all over here, including strolling through our pastures. One time this summer, I came home from a ride and found one standing at the gate inside the pasture, as though he was annoyed that I was away from home and not available to open the gate and let him out when he was ready :rofl:

When we see them on trail rides, they are as interested in going the other direction as we are. Usually I play music from my phone when I’m riding solo, so I figure they hear us coming way before we even know they’re around. On the rare occasion we are close enough to see each other, once I speak up (“HEY BEAR”) they usually turn and saunter off. I wear bells during hunting season, but that’s for people, not animals.

My horses are pretty used to the bears, and while they don’t love them, the reaction is typically to stop and gawk, not bolt. The other day I was riding down the road towards home, and a car flagged me down and said we should wait for a minute because he had just driven past a big black bear sunning in the road at the bottom of the hill. I thanked him, but by the time we got to that spot the bear was gone- but my mare sure did stop and get a little snorty at the smell of it having recently been there. Another time this summer, I saw what I thought was a large cat in the road- nope, it was a cub, and when it saw us it ran across the street and up a tree, which caused its sibling to follow it up the tree and the mom to take off running through the woods. I wouldn’t ever mess around with a sow with cubs, but even in that case, the mom choose to go deeper in the woods rather than towards us, and we took off in the other direction to let them all sort it out.

Here’s a bear we watched grabbing some food in my neighbor’s field while we were riding by earlier this summer:

I think if you live in an area where black bears are common, and your horses spend a lot of time outside, they’re probably fairly used to how they smell and move, so I wouldn’t panic if you see one. Obviously a lot depends on how your horse reacts to things on trail, but I think if you stay calm, a good trail horse is likely to as well.

While I’ve never been around them, I understand that grizzlies are a totally different game, and you have to be much more aware and defensive in areas where they live. Grizzly stories scare me!


Depends on where you live and the kinds of bears. Your horse will alert you to them. Black bears are pretty harmless, although sometimes they are in trees.
Grizzlies are a whole 'nother ball game. Bear spray is worthless either way.

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We see black bears pretty frequently when riding or hiking and I don’t worry about them. Luckily there aren’t any grizzlies where I live.

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Depends on your horse, and what they may think about a bear. You won’t know that in advance. Some horses are pretty freaked out by a bear… Often the same horses that are severely freaked out by pigs. Snapping a bear bell to yourself is never a bad idea. That way, you will give a bear advance warning of your presence, and give him time to evacuate the area before you get too close.

My horse and I have encountered black bears from time to time. They run in the other direction, and I restrain my horse from doing the same, and then we continue. Now I ride with a big dog who wants to chase them, so it can get a bit complicated what with everyone having an idea I want to squelch, but black bears are generally afraid of people. I worry more about them vis a vis my chickens or my goats (both locked up very securely at night).

I have heard a few stories of a dog running back to its owner, followed by a pissed off bear. I personally know one woman who experienced this and had the black bear stand up and snort in her face, then just wander off. For this reason, I don’t let a dog off leash in bear county unless it’s a breed of dog that’s been bred to defend against bears.


so Im hearing bear bells are the way to go. is that just a normal like jingle bell? or are they special in some way?
I kind of want to see one but also don’t in the same breath.

If you’re only dealing with black bears, and you’re not in a heavily populated bear area, I wouldn’t worry about it. I frequently see bear poop on the private trails where I walk my dogs and ride, but I’ve never seen a bear in the 12 years I’ve been here. Black bears tend to stay out of the way. If you’re in grizzle country, any bell should work. I don’t live around grizzlies so I don’t know much about them but I would carry a knife on you as well if there are grizzlies around. I have also heard people say bear spray is not particularly effective on a truly vicious bear.

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We ride in black bear country, and have our horses wear bear bells. These are a cute way to alert bears to your approach. I like the ones that are made as a necklace for the horse, sometimes called rhythm bells, and allow you to add the number of bells you desire. Here’s one seller on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/listing/1560835540/rhythm-beads-trail-bells-spirit-beads?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=trail+riding+bells&ref=sr_gallery-1-18&pro=1&frs=1&sts=1&organic_search_click=1

I would strongly caution you against using bear spray. The risk of it being inhaled by your horse and/or yourself is high, and it is nearly incapacitating to the respiratory tract. A wilderness guide in Alaska told us he used it exactly once, got some blow-back, and thought he was going to die of strangulation and burning throat.


I don’t live in grizzly country but if I did, I would rely on my horse to outrun it. Grizzlies can sprint at about 35 mph but not for long. I would trust my horse to give it her very best effort.

Not sure what you would use a knife for, to defend yourself from a grizzly. A 12-gauge maybe.


We have a lot of black bears in our area. Generally they just run away. You don’t have to be careful when you see cubs. If we see cubs, we immediately back track.

Our horses are out at night and I know the black bears come through. So the horses tend to pay them no mind.

We ride in the MT wilderness, AKA grizzly and black bear habitat, among other fun creatures like mountain lions and rattlesnakes.

Bear bells really don’t help much; we used to put them on our dogs that were always with us but really they don’t make a noise that bears can hear. The footfalls of your horse are much more apparent to a bear than a bell.

We take bear spray and a bear gun when we are out for days. Bear spray in a pinch (NOT from the saddle) and gun when things go majorly awry (has never happened). Honestly, bears avoid horses if they can. All the miles we’ve gone in the wilderness around Yellowstone and Glacier we’ve never had to deal with a grizzly and only rarely a black bear, even when it’s just the two of us with three horses. Our horses aren’t afraid of bears, in their last pasture they had a family of four grizzlies coming in to the apple trees for a few weeks in the fall and no issues. On the trail they might start smelling the trail or brush and a surprise would be like any other surprise but they aren’t terrified of bears. My DH nearly had a head-on with one sleepy old sow coming down the trail while we were going up; his mare just kept coming like “ok?” but DH was turned around talking to us and didn’t see the bear. By the time he heard us yelling BEAR!!! the bear heard us and blitzed off the trail into the brush. He never did see the bear and that mare was pretty proud of her bold self. ha ha

The most we’ve had to deal with bears was when we were in camp or hanging out in the mountains with food and a black bear was curious enough to come too close. We’ve seen cubs out on the end of their leash with no mom apparent and they can be like puppies trying to get you into trouble but never when we had the horses with us. The last thing I’d want to do on the trails we’re on is try to outrun a bear, our trails by/large aren’t for running horses but a bear can crash through no problem. Bears can run every bit as fast as a horse and they don’t have such fragile legs. Sometimes you don’t get a choice if you’re running but ugh, no thanks running a horse down switchbacks or dodgy mountain trails. It’s more fun and effective to sing silly songs super loud and scream to your horses how good they are than it is to have a bear race!

IMO/IME the biggest issue with a bear while riding would be the surprise = spook factor. We yell a lot when we’re in huckleberries or deep brush or see tracks, or are traveling fast. I’m extremely more on point when I’m walking the dogs or sleeping in camp, those are the scary times.

That’s my input from the wilds of Montana lol


You say bears can run 35 miles per hour. With horses, a Kentucky Derby winner is 45 mph, so I wouldn’t count on your horse outrunning the bear. Plus the difficulty of trails with the horses, as has been pointed out.

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Well, I think I will first rely on not being in grizzly country . . .


Totally recommend! lol I love where we go but man the bears are never far from my mind.

Sounds like a plan!

I was buying tires, waiting in the shop and talking to a guy who was also waiting. He said that he used to pack in the Selkirks and Bitterroots but after he sat up all night with his gun, while listening to the wolves and trying to reassure his mules, the bloom was off the rose and it was no longer fun.

Some of the most spectacular country in North America but you have to be knowledgeable and prepared.