A long-term problem that continues to grow in many wildland areas is the displeasure hikers express about meeting recreational livestock (primarily horses and mules) and seeing impacts from stock use. Three studies were conducted to provide a broad look at this interaction in wilderness and some of the contributors to the conflict between hikers and horse users. Studies were conducted at the John Muir Wilderness in the Sierra and Inyo National Forests, at the Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks in California, and at the Charles C. Deam Wilderness in the Wayne-Hoosier National Forest in Indiana.
Not all hikers dislike encountering horses in wilderness. Based on values hikers have for wilderness and their perceptions of horse users, models developed during the study can predict with more than 80 percent success (87 percent at the Deam Wilderness) whether hikers will experience conflict when they encounter horses. Twenty percent of Deam hikers who encountered horses on their visit enjoyed meeting them. About half of all hikers who encountered horses reported they did not mind meeting them in the wilderness. From 25 to 40 percent of hikers at these three wildernesses did not encounter horses on their trips. Whether this occurred by chance or is evidence they tried to avoid meeting horses is not known. At the Deam Wilderness nearly one-fourth of hikers and horse riders disliked encountering groups with dogs. At this wilderness, the only one where we asked visitors whether they liked encountering dogs, the social conflict related to such encounters equals or exceeds that of hikers encountering horses.
Strong, consistent predictors of conflict between hikers and horse users were general feelings of inappropriateness of horse use in wilderness, differences in perceptions of visitors’ status related to horse use, differences in the strength of attachment to the wilderness, and the value placed on opportunities for solitude. About half the hikers indicated that the behaviors of others interfered with their wilderness experiences, though only about half of those identified horse groups as interfering. At the John Muir and Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wildernesses the majority of the behaviors creating conflict for hikers were horses defecating in places where hikers have to walk, noisy stock groups, and rude stock groups. Deam hikers were similar, but they had fewer complaints about manure and more complaints about horse-related trail damage.
The management option of separating uses by providing some trails for hikers only is generally supported by hikers, but not by horse users, at these three wildernesses. While persuasive and educational messages may reduce conflict between hikers and horse users, if managers fail to reduce the number of encounters that create conflict or impacts of horse use that hikers label as inappropriate, they may find some restrictions on horse use to be necessary.