I’ve mentioned many times that we LOVE getting comments on our blogs. Hundreds and often thousands read these blogs on a daily basis and we are very much encouraged to receive feedback, support, prayers, and cheers from our readers. It’s one of the first things we do when we get to a computer is read all the comments. It’s a highlight in our day. So thank you to everyone who has commented, and especially to our faithful cheerleaders!
The question was, “Why didn’t you ride on the other side of the road- that way you can see them (the cars) coming and they could see you as they were coming at you (on the blind corners)?
Excellent question. Here’s the answer.
1- First, we started riding on the right way back in the beginning because the general rule of thumb on the roads is “Ride on the right, walk on the left.” As horses, you could get away with considering yourself either a vehicle or a pedestrian and you have the right of way either way. So technically, we could ride on any side we want, but we chose to “Ride on the Right.”
2- Here’s the real reason we decided to ride on the right. There are often times when we need to take up the entire lane for safety. For example, when we are going over a bridge or around a sharp corner. This forces traffic to stay behind us until we are across the obstacle unless it is truly safe to pass. (Many drivers will try to pass when it is completely dangerous so this is our only way to control our safety to some extent.) When you are going in the same direction as traffic, if you are holding them up for a short time until you can pull off and let them pass, you are at least moving forward. Otherwise, you would be trying to force vehicles coming the opposite direction to pull over or back up to allow you to move forward. Additionally, if we can get a vehicle behind us before going over or around an obstacle (like a blind corner) this gives us a buffer and a built in “escort with flashers” just for afew moments so that other vehicles see the delay sooner. If we were going against traffic, we would never have this ‘buffer’ or flashers following us and would be completely vulnerable to vehicles running head-on into us. When you are going around a blind corner- it’s blind no matter which direction you go, so it’s safer to have traffic following you. If a car going the opposite direction met us in a blind corner, either we’d have to back up, or they would have to- neither of which is safe or necessarily possible. Besides, should screeching of tires occur, the horses generally run forward when they get scared, thus giving us an unlikely but slight chance at getting out of the way of an impending accident. Going against traffic would mean that if a horse began to run it would run directly into the oncoming car. (These situations almost always occur when there are guardrails or stone walls on the side of the road with no where for us to go!) I’d rather have my horse running away from vehicles behind him than into a vehicle in front of him.
3- Additionally, we have to attach our pack horses together in a specific way to keep them from wandering out in the road. Typically when you are riding in the mountains, pack horses are attached to a rope that comes directly out the back of the pack saddle of the horse in front of it. The horse is free to walk behind the horse behind it or off to either side- wherever it is most comfortable. But because we are on roads all the time, we have to tie those ropes off to the side away from the road to prevent the pack horses from trailing out into the road. Once they are tied off to the side, we are pretty much committed to staying on that side of the road for the day, otherwise we have to change all of the ropes over to the other side to ride on the other side of the road- not exactly an efficient procedure! This is why we don’t get in left turn lanes until the very last moment because it doesn’t take long for the horses to realize that the curb isn’t next to them anymore and they start to trail to the right across several lanes! Also, Richard and I are both right handed, so we control the pack horses with our right hand. Thus the first pack horse in line keeps it’s head slightly off to the right of our riding horse so we can keep an eye on it. This sets up the whole line of pack horses to stay off to the right. See picture below!
4- Another reason we continue to stay on the right is that our horses are completely and utterly used to seeing traffic on their left side. Horses eyes are on the sides of their head which enables them to see almost completely around their body to watch for predators. So unlike people, they see two different pictures in their brain- one out of each eye. When training horses, you have to do everything twice- one on each side. They will act like they never learned it before when you teach them something on one side, then move to the other side. You have to start all over as if they never saw it before- because they haven’t on that side. So when a horse gets really used to something being on only one side, they tend to get much more worried if they see it on the other side when they aren’t used to it. Hense, our horses are very used to seeing traffic in all forms on their left side, but not so comfortable with it on their right side! Imagine that- and they’ve ridden all the way across America! It’s not that they can’t handle it, they simply do it much better when they are on the right side.
5-The last reason I can think of is that Bella has been taught a command “Ditch” which means to get off the road on the right side of the horses (away from traffic). See picture above. It is her most important command because it keeps her safe. We have tried using it on the left side of the road (on the rare occasion there is a huge grassy shoulder we used that was on the left but not on the right.) She learned that “Ditch” means the right side of the horses and so that is where she goes without fail. It would be putting Bella in life-and-death danger to ride on the left side of the road because she has been trained to stay on our right. Period. No exceptions. And it is absolutely top priority to keep that darling dog safe that we and everyone else who has met her love sooo much!
So that is the long-winded answer to a simple question. It’s quite a bit more complicated than most people imagine because of the skill and logistics involved. And you thought sitting in the saddle all day was easy! We have alot to focus on and control while we are on the roads. Long gone are the days out west when we could just relax and spend quality time together during the riding part of the day. It is a full time job using lots of skill and concentration to keep two people, five horses, and one dog safe on busy and dangerous roads.
Hopefully, this has answered the question, educated everyone else on a little-known fact of the Ride Across America, and given a bit of advice to anyone else out there who has the crazy idea to do what we’ve done. (We’ve been contacted by several lately!) Thanks again for sharing your comments!