Originally Posted by glasswave
In terms of damage, there is one critical difference, ATV's are not allowed to run roughshod over our parks and wilderness lands like horses.
Close to cities (I've lived in Sacramento and LA) here in Californistan, we have a lot of "no motor vehicles" trails. Fair enough--they're busy enough with hikers that I wouldn't want to ride them anyway. But some horse people insist on taking horses on trails that are too narrow for two hikers to pass. Some of them also don't stay off the trails when wet, and guess what--horses erode wet trails just like you'd imagine 1500-lb objects would.
Motor vehicles are prohibited from a lot of the forest roads during the wet season because the soil makes the roads easy to damage. Horses on wet, highly erosive hiking trails, though? No problem.
Most of them are cool, though. Nearly all the dirt I ride is on FS land, which in CA is only legal to ride if it's a designated road or motor vehicle trail. I slow down to a fast walk and pass as far away as I can. I've never had any issues, but I don't feel like it's my job to stop, kill the engine and take off my helmet--if a horse can't see a vehicle without spooking, it shouldn't be on a road.
The 'wilderness' thing pisses me off in some places... I can ride a what amounts to a fire road in the dry season with no impact whatsoever, but it's illegal. Meanwhile, horses can damage the trail all winter and shit on it year-round, no problem. I get the purpose of wilderness, but it seems pointless in areas that had roads before they became wilderness, especially now that off-road travel is illegal on most of our FS land.