Horses are sensitive to their surroundings by smell, sound, feel and vision; they detect movement under foot and have good hearing but although they can see perfectly well, the blind spot of a horse is huge. They will often tell us that something is ahead before we can see it ourselves. It is usually the case of surprise that makes horse and rider jump, the recognised term is ‘spook’. A horse can spook at a pigeon flying out of a tree or cows behind a hedge. Sometimes it can be something they have walked past many times before.As riders we do our best to stay safe on the roads and it is relatively easy to control your horse when a noisy motorbike comes along or we can see or hear a tractor approaching, we collect our horse and calmly control until the vehicle has passed safely, or we signal for them to slow down while we find a safe place to pull off the road and allow them to pass. Cyclists however, can be “silent monsters” who creep up from behind with little to no warning. The blind spot of the horse is much bigger than most people realise; the diagram below shows how extensive this area is and clearly makes it easy to understand why a horse can’t see you until you are practically level with its head. By which time, it may well spook and jump sideways, bolt forwards or it may even spin around so it can get a better look at whatever has frightened it.
Best Practice for Cyclists
As you approach a horse, please let us know you are there by either ringing a bell or just shouting “bike behind!” or “coming up” anything (nice!) that will alert us that you are there. We can take measures to alert our horse you are there and we recommend you take a wide berth, slowing down to a walking crawl and making sure it is safe to overtake. In large groups, consider thinning out so as not to bombard the horse with so many bikes at one time. If cycle races are being held on country roads, ask the organisers to put notices out a couple of days before so that riders can avoid riding on that day or on that route. There is nothing more terrifying than a group of 20-30 cyclists whizzing past, horses can kick out when frightened and can pack a mighty punch.
The diagram shows the blind spots of a horse. If you are in these blind spotsthe horse won’t see you. Think about how you get a shock if someone walkspast you at speed on the street when you didn’t hear them behind you.Now think of the fear a horse, whose natural instincts are to flee for its life, will react.