Despite clear guidance in the Highway Code and publicity campaigns by the British Horse Society ( BHS) there continues to be fatalities and serious injuries of both horses and riders on our roads. Horse riders are particularly vulnerable road users as no matter how well trained the animal is it can and will react when frightened and may cause the rider to fall off, and it’s a long way down ( I speak from experience)! Horses can weigh up to 800 kg and are very strong and have very quick reactions and can lack self preservation when panicked. The above statistics are from the BHS covering 9 years .
So how do you know as a driver or rider of a motorcycle or cycle ( the rules and advice applies to all) when you will come across horses and riders . Well I can’t even say it completely depends on the environment you are in . You can still get working horses in towns and cities ( Mounted Police , Cavalry, Dray horses ( still used by some brewery’s) and inner city riding schools and clubs. In more rural areas, racing stables, riding schools and hunt and pleasure horses. However , where there is a known riding establishment,there has been an incident or a bridleway crosses a road there is usually a warning sign .
If you see these signs they are warning you of increased risk ahead . Think what other observation links horses provide ….. horse pooh . They do lots of it on the road and if it looks fresh there are very likely to be horses ahead. So be aware of following vehicles by checking mirrors, consider your speed, is it appropriate for the environment you are in and conditions, can you stop in the distance you can see that’s clear ahead. Anticipate that around every bend there could be a horse or horses in the road.
The advice to horse riders or if leading a horse is to wear high visibility clothing (both horse and rider/handler). The majority of riders and handlers do so . Therefore seeing flourescent clothing ahead ,through a hedge or by looking across a bend and seeing this maybe the first hint and observation link that a rider is ahead . If you see this check your rear view mirror for following vehicles, slow down, begin assessing the situation. Consider the type and width of the road, what can you see ahead . Also assess the horse and rider, so is the horse calm, are there more ahead . If there are two horses abreast it is possible the outer horse is escorting a nervous horse or rider or both or one is in training. Do they know you are there? This is especially important in electric vehicles and cyclists . If this applies do not rev the engine or sound a horn or bell . Horses are animals of flight and are easily frightened, so sudden noises will cause a reaction. If they don’t see you, consider calling out from a distance to gain the attention of the rider or handler, they will appreciate that.
Follow at a safe distance.
When you prepare to overtake/pass, turn down any loud music in the car. Check mirrors in case a following vehicle has begun overtaking. Consider a signal. Pass wide and slow, no more than 10 mph ( under new Highway Code regs. ), previous Highway Code advice was 15 mph or less . Allow a minimum of 2.0 metres or a car width if possible.
Be aware that the rider or handler may signal to you to wait. They maybe about to turn off or across the road or have seen something that may cause the horse to react ahead (rubbish being blown around or workman using power tools for instance). So be patient. If that was your friend or son or daughter riding the horse you would expect others to keep to the rules, so must you.
If a rider or handler waves you on, ensure you know it is safe to do so , it is your responsibility to assess the situation behind and ahead. The rider may not be a driver and not appreciate how long it will take you to pass safely .
You are passing at a slow speed so it will take some time and distance to get well past before moving back in. Ensure you are well past the horse(s) before moving back in . Do not accelerate harshly. You must be able to pass and move back in in plenty of time before the approach of oncoming vehicles or hazards ahead such as blind bends, hump back bridges, junctions .
Approaching, passing and moving back in safely showing consideration to the rider(s) will be appreciated by them. They may wave to you to thank you but if they are having to concentrate on riding their horse this may not be their first priority . So just take pride that by being aware and using the correct techniques to pass you helped to keep them, yourself and other road users safe. Stay safe and avoid the situation below happening to you .