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Road safety for horse riders

- Posted by in Pet Care
Road safety for horse riders

Horses are large and powerful flight animals, which makes them (and their riders) amongst the most vulnerable groups of road users. When startled by noise or fast-moving vehicles, a horse may rear up or bolt – the consequences of which can be terrible for horses, riders and motorists.

In the UK, there are roughly 3 million horse riders and many of these use public highways to reach local bridleways or other off-road locations. Whether you live in the countryside or somewhere more suburban, there will come a time when every horse rider is forced to use the roads simply to get where they need to go, or even to exercise their horses due to a lack of bridleways or off-road riding in the area.

The British Horse Society has revealed that more than 2,000 accidents were reported between 2010-2015 - 36 of which involved a rider fatality and 181 which involved the death or euthanasia of a horse. It is worth remembering that these are just reported incidents, and there will be countless others.

We mustn’t forget that both horse riders and motorists are equally responsible for ensuring their safety on the roads, but what can you do, as a horse rider, to minimise your chances of having a road accident or near-miss when riding out this winter (and throughout the year)?

  • Remember to always wear your high vis clothing and accessories, no matter what the weather is like or how good visibility is. Make sure your horse is wearing as much reflective gear as you are and can be seen from a good distance. If at all avoidable, try not to head out in darkness, snow, fog or torrential rain, or any other time when visibility is reduced.
  • Only use highways if your horse is considered ‘road-safe’ and is accustomed to the sights and sounds of road traffic.
  • If possible, get horses used to cars at a young age. This is best done away from the roads, in a safe and secure location, by asking a friend to drive slowly passed the field a few times so your horse comes to see that the car doesn't pose a threat.
  • Ensure you have a well-fitted helmet and that all your tack and equipment is in perfect working order.
  • Avoid riding two abreast, especially on narrow country roads. If you have to ride side-by-side, return to single file as soon as it is safe to do so.
  • Use appropriate hand signals to let motorists know what you are about to do. If you are turning left or right, indicate with the appropriate arm. Extend your arm to the side of you and move it up and down to tell motorists to slow down.
  • Always remember to thank motorists when they slow down for you, allow plenty of space when they pass, give you right of way, or have patience to let you manoeuvre. Mutual respect is important on the roads and a simple 'thank you' goes a long way. Hopefully this will encourage motorists to repeat their actions when they next pass a horse and rider on the road.
  • Invest in a hat or hack cam and tabard to let motorists know they are being filmed. The idea is that this will increase your safety as drivers will take extra care when passing you. The reflective tabard will also help illuminate you in low light.

As a motorist, remember to always pass 'wide and slow' when you see a horse and rider - leave a car's width between the horse and your car and approach at no more than 15mph - never revv your engine or press the horn, and always have patience and overtake only when there is time and space to do so.

If you have any comments on this discussion, post them below for our other readers or feel free to email me directly: [email protected]

Written by: Hannah Dyball


13th Oct 2016

Not only "see and be seen" but I have seen horses slide in the road when startled by something (chickens in a field and galloping sheep!) Some don't like the red and green areas appearing on our roads. Mine doesn't like the arrow heads in a slow down area. Please make sure your horse's SHOES are in good condition for road riding. Maybe even use studs in slippery conditions. Some riders let their horse's shoes wear right down to next-to-nothing. Be safe, be seen and stay upright.

2nd Nov 2017

I do all of the above apart from a cam. Many drivers are very courteous and obey my signals but others either do not know what they mean or they choose to ignore them and drive past very fast (short stretch of main road) and too close. Could the police run a series of training videos on the relevant parts of the Highway Code?

11th Oct 2018
Customer Since: November 2014
From: Berkshire, United Kingdom

I am a great supporter of riding and road safety. Please can all riders refrain from operating mobile phones whilst riding. You lack control of your horse and you, the rider lacks concentration. You don't need to be on the phone just enjoy riding - that's what we do it for!

12th Oct 2018
Customer Since: July 2018
From: Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

As a fellow rider I'm very courteous to fellow road users.I only ever ride two abreast if it's safe to do so or on the bridleway itself it really annoys me when other riders ride two abreast in built up areas not allowing any traffic room then myself and the young rider I ride with get arrogant speed demons taking it out on us. If traffic is heavy I will pull off the road or ask my boy to patiently wait to let the traffic through some will remember us and give us the same courtesy we give them but others don't care at all. Most recently I young lad in a powerful car almost careered into the rear of my friend and pony causing him to lock up and skid towards them the little pony bucked both rear legs to strike out and he honked his horn having ago at her for it I was fuming we was both wearing full hi viz clothing even though it was sunny (never ride without it) now I'm looking to invest in a cam as he clearly needed reporting. Even my 21yr old very calm boy freaked out by him screaming towards us then wheel spinning away.

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