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Equestrian bridge loads and railings

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Tom Skaggs <tom.skaggs(--nospam--at)> wrote:

"I traded e-mails with the standards guy at ASAE, and he is not aware of
any standards or engineering practices on railings for equestrian
bridges.  It certainly makes sense to raise the railings above
pedestrian/bicycle, but I don't know what it would be.  Perhaps contact
your local (New Mexico?) horse track.  I would think they would have
occasions to have railings to protect the horses/riders and public.

Good luck,

-----Original Message-----
From: Sherman, William [mailto:ShermanWC(--nospam--at)]=20
Sent: Monday, January 17, 2005 15:42
To: seaint(--nospam--at)
Subject: RE: Equestrian bridge loads and railings=20

Tom, thank you for this information - it is helpful.=20

Are railings for equestrian bridges typically set any higher than
standard pedestrian/bicycle railings?=20

William C. Sherman, PE

I write:

Let me throw in my two cents worth.

Many years ago, I rode horses through South Dakota's Black Hills.  Very
beautiful, great trip.  Anyhow, the bridges we rode across were just
plank-and-beam bridges built to accommodate light car and truck traffic.
A couple things stand out in my memory.  First, they placed the planks
(3x12 or so) with maybe 4 inch gaps between them, and the horses dropped
a leg through the gaps as they crossed--very dangerous.  Second, the
horses didn't want to cross something they could see through.  So, if
you're using a plank deck, keep the gaps between them under maybe 1/2

If you are using a concrete deck, make sure it's got a really rough
broom finish.  Horses frequently slip on pavement, especially if it's
wet.  They're not mountain goats; they're actually kind of clumsy on
anything except hard-packed dirt.

Also, these bridges had no railing.  They may have had a 6x6 timber rub
curb, but that's about it.  They were maybe 12 feet wide, and the horses
instinctively kept to the center of the bridge.  One thing horses are
always trying to do is rub against something to itch themselves.  My dad
and I built a fence to hold horses at his house, using 6x8 timber posts
and pipe railing.  The horses spent a lot of time leaning against it;
eventually they bent most of the pipe, and virtually every post leaned
and needed to be reset.  After riding an open trail in the hot sun for a
time, that bridge rail is going to look like an itching post to every
horse that walks by it.  This can be really hard on the legs of the
rider; romantic stories to the contrary notwithstanding, most horses
don't give a rat's butt about the load sitting on top of them making
their gums sore, and they'll gladly try to rub the itch they get under
the cinch strap by crushing the rider's leg against a stationary object.

Which points to another consideration:  If you do put railings on the
bridge, make them really stout.  The only thing worse than having your
leg crushed by an itchy horse is having the horse break through the
railing and land on you at the bottom of the stream you're crossing.

Also, for the benefit of anybody trying to walk across the bridge while
horses cross it, make it stiff.  I don't know what the natural frequency
of a walking horse is, but their footfall may be 10 times the force of
the guy down the hall who makes the floor vibrate when he walks by.  


Mike Hemstad
St. Paul, Minnesota

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