Take care when horses meet horsepower

Drivers should be on the lookout for horses, particularly on country roads.

Drivers should be on the lookout for horses, particularly on country roads. - Credit: supplied

Horses are a common sight on our roads so it is vital drivers and riders know how to respect each other’s needs, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

If you live or drive in the countryside you have to expect to come across horses using the road.

The British Horse Society estimates there are 3.5 million regular riders and nearly a million horses in the UK.

It is imporant riders and drivers know how to behave what is expected to share the road safely.

Drivers also have to expect the unexpected – no matter how well a horse in kept under control, it is large and powerful and a ‘flight’ animal which makes them unpredictable and easily spooked.

A friend was riding her horse on the road when a barking dog came running across a field towards them. While she was aware of what was happening, an approaching car driver would not have been able to see or hear the potential hazard.

If a speeding car or barking dog scares a horse, its natural and sudden reaction will be to get away from it. That could take it straight into the road in front of a car for even an experienced rider could struggle to regain control of it.

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Responsible riders try to avoid fast or busy roads and wear hi-vis clothing so they stand out. You are most likely to encounter horses on country roads so drive carefully, particularly round bends, to help you spot horses and riders in time and react safely.

The AA’s advice for drivers who meet a horse on the road is to:

Slow right down and be ready to stop.

Give them a wide berth – at least a car’s width – and pass slowly.

Avoid any actions likely to spook the horse – such as splashing them with puddles, sounding your horn or revving the engine.

Look out for signals from the rider to slow down or stop.

Don’t expect all riders to raise their hand in thanks when you drive considerately – if they are not able to take a hand off the reins and maintain control most will smile or nod their thanks instead.

Accelerate gently once you have passed the horse.

And drivers should be aware that:

The rider and horse may both be inexperienced and nervous in traffic.

A cyclist or motorcyclist will move to the centre of the road well before turning right but a horse and rider intending to turn right will stay on the left until they reach the turn.

Horse riders will generally try to avoid difficult junctions such as roundabouts. If they do use them expect riders to keep left and signal right across exits to show that they’re not leaving. Slow down and allow them plenty of room.

Rule 215 of the Highway Code says: “Be particularly careful of horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles, especially when overtaking. Always pass wide and slowly. Horse riders are often children, so take extra care and remember riders may ride in double file when escorting a young or inexperienced horse or rider. Look out for horse riders’ and horse drivers’ signals and heed a request to slow down or stop. Take great care and treat all horses as a potential hazard.”

Rules 49 to 55 give detailed advice to riders including:

Riders should wear light-coloured or fluorescent clothing in daylight and reflective clothing if riding at night or in poor visibility.

It is safer not to ride on the road at night or in poor visibility.

Always ride with other, less nervous horses if you think that your horse will be nervous of traffic.

When riding on the road keep to the left.

Move in the direction of the traffic flow in a one-way street.

Never ride more than two abreast.

Ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends.

Avoid roundabouts wherever possible.

So whether you are on four legs or four or two wheels, rein in the horsepower and be prepared for the unexpected to keep everyone safe.