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Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads and Campgrounds

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Chapter 7--Planning Recreation Sites--Continued

Trail Access Points

The primary feature of a successful equestrian trailhead and campground is a well-planned trail system. Once riders have established their camp, they don't like to transport stock to another location. Provide access to numerous loop trails directly from horse camps and trailheads. Consult Chapter 4--Designing Trail Elements for more information regarding loop trails.

Trail access points should be in places that are convenient, easy to find, and avoid user conflicts. If a recreation site has both a trailhead and a campground, provide separate trail access points leading from each facility and merge them some distance away. Because stock tend to defecate in the first half mile (0.8 kilometer) of a ride, separating trail access points for riders and other recreationists also reduces the manure on trails used by others.

Locate campground trail access in a public area that minimizes disturbance to visitors in single-party camp units. Trail access is best located at the end of a loop road or road intersection. These locations encourage riders to use the road instead of riding through someone else's camp unit. In group camps or trailhead parking areas, locate trail access points at the end of parking areas (see figures 7-6, 7-7, and 7-8).


Recreation site utilities may include storm drainage, water, waste disposal, and power systems. The main factors that determine which utilities to provide at a recreation site are the site's proximity to existing utilities, the budget, and the level of development.

Sewer-, water-, and power-system design varies by geographic region. For example, water conservation is important in arid regions. Urban areas have access to existing water systems that may be sophisticated, while some northern regions use wells that require frost-free hydrants. Electrical systems may access a power grid or use solar power. No matter what system is chosen, utility design must be completed by qualified engineers and adhere to applicable local, State, and Federal building and regulatory codes.

Installing utility lines in a recreation site can affect vegetation and esthetics, often leaving a bare corridor the width of a road. Sensitive design minimizes these impacts by placing utility lines parallel and adjacent to the edges of new roads, along abandoned roads, or on a route that is already devoid of vegetation. If this is impractical, use the newly cleared area for pedestrian routes or structures. Where feasible, bury powerlines.

Storm Drainage Systems

Storm drainage systems should carry off surface water without affecting site esthetics. Grades must direct surface waterflow away from living areas, toilet buildings, and hardened surfaces. Recreation site roads, parking areas, and pathways also must be sloped slightly to drain. Wherever possible, concentrate and collect surface flows in areas that are not visible. It may be possible to minimize impact on the land by using several small inlet structures close to one another instead of one large inlet. Regardless of the complexity of the system, proper design must follow State law and will require an interdisciplinary team that includes an engineer, hydrologist, and landscape architect.

Water Sources

Provide convenient stock water access--an average 1,500-pound (6,680-kilogram) animal needs about 15 gallons of water daily--more if the animal is active. Fifteen gallons of water weighs about 125 pounds (56.7 kilograms), quite a load to haul in buckets. Suitable water sources include water hydrants and water troughs.

Water Hydrants and Troughs

When stock share water sources, there is a potential for disease transmission. Because of this, many riders bring their own water and don't permit their horses and mules to use a shared source. Some riders prefer filling their own bucket at a hydrant, and then they take the bucket to the animal (figure 7-9) or bring the animal to the bucket. Other riders prefer the convenience of having a water trough. To meet the needs of all riders, provide both water hydrants and troughs. At a minimum, provide a water trough and hydrant at each toilet building and at trail access points. Riders also appreciate hydrants at group gathering areas. For user convenience, consider installing hydrants as suggested in table 7-2.

Photo of a man holding a bucket watering his horse.
Figure 7-9--An average horse requires about 1 gallon of water
daily for each 100 pounds of body weight. Trail stock generally
weigh between 750 and 1,500 pounds. Draft horses, such as these
Percherons, can weigh 2,000 pounds or more.
--Courtesy of the Forest Preserve of DuPage County, IL.

Table 7-2--Suggested placement guidelines for water sources in recreation sites.
Facility Maximum distance from camp unit, picnic unit, or horse trailer (feet)
Water hydrant 150
Water trough 300

Locate hydrants and troughs along the outside edges of loop roads, at intersections, or along the perimeter of parking areas. These locations encourage users to travel the road instead of cutting through camp units (see figures 7-6, 7-7, and 7-8). In highly developed areas where one hydrant serves two campsites, designers may want to incorporate split faucets and controls. Split faucets are not commonly available, but can be custom fabricated. Local health and safety codes may require backflow prevention systems or other considerations for custom configurations.

Accessible Hydrants and Handpumps

In areas with existing water lines, water access for riders with disabilities usually is not a problem. Many hydrant models are commercially available to meet needs at these sites. The Americans with Disabilities/Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADA/ABAAG) require that the controls can be operated with one hand without tight grasping, pinching, or wrist twisting. The force required to operate the control can't be more than 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms), and control heights must be between 15 and 48 inches (about 381 to 1,220 millimeters) above the ground. To be accessible, the handpump (figure 7-10) must be on a firm and stable surface that is clear of any obstructions for at least 60 by 60 inches (1,524 by 1,524 millimeters). This design allows someone in a wheelchair to approach the hydrant from the front or side, turn around, and leave. If the hydrant is an unusual design with the handle and spout on different sides of the post, be sure that people can access both sides.

Because available options for stand-alone handpumps that meet accessibility requirements are limited, MTDC designed the accessible handpump shown in figure 7-11. The pump complies with the grasping, turning, and operating force restrictions for people with disabilities. The design works with wells that are about 50 feet (15.2 meters) deep. No commonly available handpumps meet accessibility requirements for wells deeper than 50 feet.

Photo of an accessible hydrant surrounded by a cement surface and vegetation.
Figure 7-10--This accessible hydrant has easy-to-use controls, a
drain, and a firm and stable surface for wheelchairs.

Drawing of a person in a wheel chair using an accessible handpump.
Figure 7-11--An accessible handpump
for shallow wells.

Water Troughs

Most horses and mules are comfortable using traditional, economical metal or plastic stock tanks-- also called troughs. Avoid using low troughs--1-foot (0.3-meter) high or less--that sit on the ground. Curious stock may paw at them and get their hoofs caught or flip the trough. Figure 7-12 shows a trough that is 2 feet (0.6 meter) high and suitable for an area with a low to moderate level of development. The trough features a convenient automatic fill device with a protective screen that prevents curious stock from damaging it. Cold climates require frost-free hydrants. Figure 7-13 shows a trough suitable for a high level of development. Many riders prefer watering their stock in clean, freshly filled water troughs.

Photo of a woman on her horse while the horse is getting a drink from a water trough. In the photo the text reads, Screened cage.
Figure 7-12--Stock can paw at a short trough and flip
it. A tall trough, such as this one, is a better choice. A
screened cage protects the automatic fill device from
curious stock or other animals.

Photo of a water tank.
Figure 7-13--This attractive water trough is
convenient, but costly.

Horses and mules suck water into their mouths through lips that they keep mostly closed. They can get a hearty drink from a water source that is only a few inches deep. Some innovative shallow troughs fill for a single animal's use. After the animal has finished, the remaining water flushes into the drainage system. The raised shallow basin permits stock to see in all directions while drinking (figure 7-14). These troughs are appropriate only in highly developed sites. Table 7-3 shows the relative characteristics of water troughs and indicates the suitable level of development for each type.

Photo of a raised water basin in a corral.
Figure 7-14--A raised water basin allows stock to
see in all directions when drinking. This style is
suitable for areas with a high level of development.

Table 7-3--Characteristics and suitability of stock water troughs.
Water trough material Rust-resistant Economical Suitable level of development
Concrete X   High
Metal   X Low, moderate, and high
Plastic X X  

Horses and mules are not the only animals that use water troughs in recreation sites. Small wildlife in search of water may jump up on the edge, or reach into, stock water troughs. If they lose their balance, they can fall in and drown. A wildlife ramp (figure 7-15) supplies an escape route for small, trapped animals. Contact the appropriate wildlife and conservation agency for applicable regulations and design guidelines.

Photo of a water tank full of water with an escape ramp for small animals that might fall in. In the photo the text reads, Escape ramp, Water trough, and Water level.
Figure 7-15--Water troughs with an escape ramp are
lifesavers for small, thirsty wildlife that otherwise
might have drowned after falling in.

Water troughs require a surrounding area that is clear of vegetation, signs, and other obstructions. When surroundings are clear, stock can drink from either side and avoid conflicts. The size of the wearing surface will vary according to the size of the water trough. Figure 7-16 illustrates a 4-foot water trough that has an adequate clear area with an aggregate wearing surface. Water troughs also require regular maintenance. To prevent them from getting plugged, drain debris and standing water regularly. Mosquitoe that carry serious stock diseases, such as West Nile virus, breed in standing water. In some areas of the country, water troughs must be scrubbed frequently to remove scum, algae, or mineral deposits.

Drawing of a water trough on a wearing surface with two horses. In the drawing the text reads, 4 ft water trough, Edging, Minimum cleared area, leveled, sloped to drain, and surfaced with suitable material, Water hydrant, 12 ft min. (typical), 14 ft min., and  5 ft min. (typical).
Figure 7-16--A 4-foot water trough installed
on a wearing surface.

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Updated: 10/20/2015
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