For most riders in the UK, venturing onto the road is a necessary part of hacking out. Perhaps you actively enjoy exploring country lanes, or maybe you can’t avoid a busy A road in order to reach your nearest bridleway.
Whatever your situation, horse riders are classed as vulnerable road users – along with pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
A worrying increase in the number of traffic accidents involving horses means riders are more vulnerable than ever on the road. According to statistics released by the British Horse Society (BHS) nearly two horses a week are killed on UK roads.
They make three main recommendations to help improve the safety of riders on the road:
Reduce and enforce speed limits on roads where horses are ridden regularly.
Riders should wear lights when riding, in a pattern that highlights their width (two red LEDs on the rider’s shoulders and two on the horse’s flanks facing traffic coming from behind. White LED’s facing forward in a similar pattern to alert approaching traffic)
Riders should wear reflective high-vis clothing, especially in the absence of lights. Bear in mind the colours of the area you’re riding in (eg, dark green hedge lines) and the time of day (eg, bright sunshine) and choose contrasting colours accordingly.
There’s a lot of work to be done towards making roads safer for horses, but there are things each individual rider can do to help manage the situation.
How can you help?
Thank drivers who pass wide and slow – if you do, they’re more likely to do the same for the next horse they see.
When riding on a narrow road, get out of the way as quickly as you can. For example, trot to the nearest gateway or move on to the verge, if it’s safe to do so.
Ride single file when you’re on a narrow, winding road so there’s more room for approaching vehicles to go around you.
Don’t react to any abuse an impatient driver may throw your way.
If possible, ride at quieter times of the day and avoid peak commuting times.
If you’re on a young or nervous horse, don’t ride him on the road on your own.
Give drivers every opportunity to see you by kitting out both you and your horse with lights and high-vis clothing.
Ensure you have public liability and personal accident insurance cover in place – just in case.
Avoid riding in the dark/poor light – common sense required here!
Give the road your full attention – don’t use your mobile phone or listen to music and limit chat with other riders.
Desensitise your horse to traffic as far as you can. For example, if you’re worried about tractors, work regularly in a field or arena with a tractor running nearby.
Don’t miss the latest issue of Your Horse Magazine, jam-packed with training and veterinary advice, horse-care tips and the latest equestrian products available on shop shelves, on sale now. Find out what’s in the latest issue here