Riding and road safety

Road safety for horse riders

source: Wendy Findlay
Country Smallholding August 2002
starts p58, 2 pages long

UK roads have become more dangerous enviroments for horse riders, with more traffic that goes faster than 20 years ago. On average, eight accidents occur daily involving riders, cars and horses.

The first rule of safety is to be seen, with riders using fluorescent caps and waistcoats, and horses having fluorescent tail guards, leg bands and nose bands.

The Highway Code and BHS manual on road safety for riders are important sources of help. They advise riders to keep left, and use single file at bends and on narrow roads. Riders should keep left even when about to turn right, rather than standing in the centre of a road, where a horse could panic with traffic on each side. The road can be crossed when it is safe.

It's important to check it is safe before signaling and turning. Hold your arm straight for some three seconds on the side you wish to turn.

Riders may ask motorists to go more slowly, espcially if they fear their horse is unsettled. The signal involves slowly moving an outstretched arm up and down while looking at the motorist. Riders can also use their palms to face motorists to ask them to stop. Smiles and nods of thanks help riders get on with motorists.

It's essential to have enough experience to cope with traffic, or to ride with someone who has this experience. Nervous horses are often calmer if they walk with calm horses. It's best to choose quieter roads at quieter times, and ride in daylight when there is good visibility, using fluorescent equipment even in daylight. Safety hats and stirrups of the right size are also important, and riders should be insured, with third party legal liability.

Sometimes riders encounter obstacles that can frighten horses, like people using machinery. They have to assess whether retreat and an alternative route is the best option, or whether the machine operator can be persuaded to stop for a while, with a pleading glance. An object in a hedge on the left can be approached turning the horse's head to the right, while using the right leg to ensure he stays at the road side and doesn't swing his quarters out. Riding puroposefully past the object should then be possible. Horses also react better to traffic behind them if they see it first with their right eyes, since a glimpse with a left eye may lead a horse to think the car is approaching on his inside, which may lead him to go into the centre of the road.

Motorists should always slow when they see horses, and give them plenty of room, being especially considerate of young riders.

Riders wanting to learn about road safety can get help from the British Horse Society, which runs training programmes and tests.