Drivers are often heard saying ‘horses should not be allowed on the roads’ and in response you may well hear, ‘horses were here first’. But in reality both of the statements in today’s world are irrelevant. Other road users aside from cars, are cyclists, motorcyclists, lorries, buses, walkers (when no pavement), quad bikes, tractors and agricultural machinery etc and the non mechanical method of transport, the horse. It is essential that other road users see the horse as another ‘vehicle’ carrying humans! If you hit any of these vehicles you are putting yourself at risk, your passengers, the driver and passengers in the other vehicle and possibly pedestrians. The point we are making is that if you hit a horse, you may not only damage your car, seriously injure or kill the horse but you might seriously injure or kill the rider as well. HRSA could quite easily scream when so many drivers seem to think that hitting a horse is unfortunate but that it ‘doesn’t really matter, it’s just horse’! That horse has a human life sat on its back and should be seen as another vulnerable road user e.g. the horse is in the same category as cyclists and motorcyclists. The roads are for sharing and horse riders are legally allowed to use the same space as a car. Picture this ... you see a horse and rider in the distance, do youa)Speed up as you approach and get past as fast as you can?b)Stop and wait for the rider to turn off the road, no matter how long it takes?c)Beep your horn and rev your engine as you approach to let them know you are there and need to pass?d)Slow down and take a slow wide berth observing all around you as you pass?Even if you have no knowledge of horses and how they behave it surely makes sense to choose ‘D’. At HRSA we are aware that drivers need to get from ‘a to b’ as quick as possible but if they use rural roads every care must be taken to avoid accidents involving horses and their riders.
The horse is an animal with a mind of its own and whilst we take years to desensitise them to traffic their natural instinct is freeze or flight when frightened or ‘spooked’ as it is called in the horse world. When a horse spooks it can freeze on the spot, or it can jump left or right, upwards, forwards or backwards or bolt (run away). The rider will generally have the ability and skills to bring her horse back under control but will need a little time and concentration to do so. We must stress here that ANYTHING can spook a horse from a crisp bag flying in the wind, to wheelie bins and even things they have seen the day before, like cows in fields, sheep or a pigeon flying out of a tree.
We also appreciate that not all riders show good manners and road sense and many have not taken the BHS (British Horse Society) Road Safety Test. Thehand signals are the same as the cycle proficiency tests, so if you took one of those in your younger days, you should be able to recognise the hand signals used by horse riders. Another goal is to encourage all riders to wear hi viz clothing so drivers can clearly see them and take steps to avoid a collision. Those few extra seconds gained from being seen sooner can save the life of both rider and horse and even the driver. It is also perfectly legal to ride two abreast and the reason for this is often because the horse on the inside maybe a youngster and needs the stability of a steady more experienced horse.So the moral of the story is when passing horses –•Remember the horse is an animal not a machine, it can react to a number of situations•If the rider waves their arm/hand up and down they are asking you to slow down, this could be because they know the route and that there is a lay by or gateway ahead where they can move over and give you more room to pass. This is not done to hold up your journey.•If the rider holds their hand up and still palm facing you, they are asking you to stop and give them time to calm their horse for you to pass safely•When safe to do so, approach slowly and pass wide, just as you would overtake another vehicle or a cyclist, imagine they are inside a huge bubble that will burst if you get too close•Maintain a slow steady speed while passing without revving your engine or sounding your horn•Make sure your vehicle has completely cleared the horse and rider by several yards before pulling back in.•If you see a horse ‘PLAYING UP’, stop and allow the rider the time to regain control and tell you when it is safe to passWe ask riders to politely thank drivers for showing consideration while passing but sometimes it is not always possible to take a hand of the reins and wave; please don’t think your respect has been ignored. If you are unsure of the Highway Code and vulnerable road users please go to http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/TravelAndTransport/Highwaycode/DG_069858PLEASE PASS WIDE AND SLOW, A FEW SECONDS ON YOUR JOURNEY MAY SAVE A LIFE!
From The Horses Point Of View
Here are a few frequently asked questions or complaints made by drivers regarding horses on the road. Please read through them and see if it changes your point of view.