Vulnerable Road Users: Horse Riders
Road Safety Week 2018
In this second article in support of Brake’s Road Safety Week, Catherine Dawson explains road use as a horse rider – and the challenges when meeting other road users, in particular those on two wheels.
Very few riders would choose to ride on a road if they didn’t have to – I certainly wouldn’t. Horse riding on the road can be challenging at best and extremely hazardous at worst.
There are very few country lanes which aren’t busy with traffic these days and it seems that a lot of drivers don’t know quite what to do when they come upon someone riding on the road, so they just drive as normal. There are, sadly, many incidents of inconsiderate or uneducated behaviour leading to injury or death to riders, horses or even vehicle drivers. A collision between your car and half a ton of horse is likely to see nobody coming out of it well.
Between March 2017 and March 2018, the British Horse Society (BHS) recorded over 400 incidents on the roads involving riders and drivers. 230 horses and 39 riders died.
Keep off the roads?
Some vehicle drivers seem to think that horses should be kept off the roads completely and stick to bridleways and farm land. That would be great for riders too but, unfortunately, the number of bridleways available to us seems to shrink year by year and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act states that any still unregistered by 2026 stand to be lost forever.
With more and more farmland being used for other purposes like solar panel farms, those options are steadily reducing too. Often the only way to access a bridleway is to use a road.
Challenges on two wheels!
Clattering trailers, loud and large lorries, ambulances or police cars with sirens going and high-revving sports cars are all potentially alarming to a horse, no matter how normally bomb-proof and well-behaved they are.
Having said that, often the group of road users which can startle a horse the most is cyclists. Being often fast-moving and pretty much silent on the road, their sudden appearance from behind or around a blind bend can be terrifying for even the best-behaved mount. We do tend to forget that horses are prey animals in the wild and their deep-rooted instincts, if badly startled, are to run away from the ‘threat’ as fast as possible.
This year, the road safety charity Brake’s theme for their annual Road Safety week is Bike Smart and they’re offering loads of helpful tips on cycling safely. There’s also lots of info on how cyclists and horses can better co-exist on the roads on the Cycling UK website. They’ve teamed up with the BHS to offer their ‘Be Nice- Say Hi!’ guidance for both cyclists and people horse riding on the road.
Motor bikes are often fast and noisy, but generally, bikers seem to be more aware than car drivers and can often be more considerate. I’ve had approaching bikers stopping completely and even switching off their engines until I’ve ridden past. This is hugely appreciated, and it helps to teach an inexperienced horse that motorbikes aren’t so very scary, so they aren’t so nervous when they meet others. A negative experience also teaches a lesson, often leaving a horse fearful for a long time into the future.
There seems to be very little training for road users on how to approach horses. I took the Riding and Road Safety course as a child (similar to Cycling Proficiency, but for people horse riding on the road) and was taught how to safely ride on the road. However, when I took my driving test, there was no mention of what to do if I found myself sharing the road with a horse.
What can you do?
- Slow down – reduce speed to 15 mph
- Pass wide – at least a car-width from the horse
- Don’t sound a horn or rev the engine
- Be patient – sometimes, you might see two horses being ridden side-by-side. Don’t think they’re being inconsiderate and taking up good overtaking space. It’s probably because the inner horse or rider is inexperienced with riding on the road and is being protected by a more experienced pair.
- Take notice of any hand signals given by the rider, perhaps asking you to slow down or even stop.
- If the horse seems to be nervous or spooked, give the rider time and space to settle it down again before you pass.
- Once past the horse and rider, drive on slowly until you’re well away.
Here’s an excellent video from BHS which shows all of these points. It also includes a couple of images of what can happen if you don’t take care around those horse riding on the road.
- Ride with due care and attention
- Always wear hi-viz Even on bright sunny days you can be hard to see. Have a look at the picture on this BHS page to see how invisible someone horse riding on the road can actually be.
- Be considerate, thank other road users when safe to do so. If not appropriate to remove a hand from the reins to wave, then a big smile and a nod of thanks will be appreciated.
- Always put both a bridle and saddle on your horse. Wear a hat, good riding boots, keep your feet in your stirrups and keep your hands on the reins except when signalling.
- Never use your mobile phone whilst in the saddle, this device should be for emergencies only. Make sure you have an ICE contact (in case of emergency) number easily accessible should something happen.
- Know the rules of the road and give clear signals
Riding is a wonderful way to spend your time and, even if you have to ride on the roads for a part of it, knowing how to stay safe will help you enjoy that too.