When a van driver passes too fast and too closely, it results in tragedy for this carriage pony. Her owner, Laura Grant, shares their story…

It’s Sunday 2nd April 2023 and I’m heading out for a carriage drive in Wales with my Welsh pony, Katie, and my friend Ellie riding her Welsh cob Billy. We decide to avoid Lon Ffoslas, as a pony and carriage were hit there only days earlier and serious damage and injury was caused to the pony, occupants and carriage.

Better safe than sorry (supposedly), we hi-vis to the hilt with three sets of lights on the rear of the carriage and lights on Billy, who follows the carriage. Ellie always wears a signalling light vest and we have three cameras covering traffic approaching from front or behind us.

Both ponies are experienced and traffic safe (as safe as any pony can be). Katie, 15, has covered over 700 road miles while 19-year-old Billy has done more than a thousand. Neither are spring chickens — and nor am I! They are my life, my legs, my confidence, but most of all my friends and part of my family. I adore them.

Billy and Katie are happy to be going out. It’s been a long, wet winter and they have only had the occasional outing. We leave the yard just after noon with Sandra seeing us out onto the road. Katie can’t wait; she’s pawing the ground in anticipation of Sandra’s signal that it was clear and she could head out.

Before get around the first bend I have to wave an oncoming motorist to slow down. Then approaching the turn for Capel Teilo Road a black car overtakes us while another car is oncoming. This is in full view of hazard signs warning of a sharp bend and to slow down — this area has seen fatalities in the past. It beggars belief.

To be honest, I no longer care if motorists put themselves at risk, but sadly that is hardly ever the outcome, it is more usually onlookers and innocent fellow road users that pay the price for another person’s haste, lack of care or lack of common sense. We live in a selfish society; there is hardly any concern for vulnerable road users.

Why were we not worthy of two seconds of his time?

Pictured are Katie and Billy wearing high vis before going for a hack

Katie and Billy in happier times

Continuing on, both ponies are happy and forward going. Ellie and I comment on how lovely it is to be out with them. It seems a lovely day for a ride and drive.

We hear a motorbike approaching from behind us and decide to trot on to a place where we can pull in and let them pass safely. The motorcyclist is brilliant, keeping well back, and waits until we are safely pulled in before slowly passing us and waving thanks. He picks up speed once well passed us. It is very refreshing. I find that motorcyclists are often excellent when passing horses.

We walk and trot along the road, with a few cars passing from either direction with no problems. As we approach the top of a hill, we have a few cars pass us before ‘Mudlescwm dip’. This is a bend, nasty camber, working farm gateway and hill all together.

We become aware of a vehicle coming down the hill behind us. Its brakes screech, spooking Billy and Katie. We calmly bring them back to a walk and I turn to see what the vehicle is, expecting a lorry and waiting for air brakes. However, it is a big white Mercedes sprinter van.

The driver keeps back but continues to rev the engine. I can hear and feel that the driver’s intention is to speed past as soon as possible. I ask Ellie to signal left to show that we intend to pull into Mudlescwm gateway, thinking it would be safer for us. We both indicate left with our arms.

I then take back my reins with my driving hand and Katie proceeds to walk/jog as we pull in. But as I turn her, the driver seizes his opportunity to pass and noisily increases speed so as to get up the hill. He misjudges pulling out and an oncoming car is coming over the brow of the hill.

If only he had waited.

If only he had been patient.

Why were we not worthy of two seconds of his time?

I wish it was me who broke a leg

Katie is scared by the van passing at speed and so close to her, and she bolts. From her point of view, it sounds like the van is coming at us and she needs to get away.

Oh how I wish that I managed to stop her or pull her into the wall — but it happened so quickly.

How I wish it was me that broke a leg; I would mend, but not so for my Katie.

I’m sorry I didn’t pull harder. I’m sorry I was being considerate and pulling in to allow traffic to pass us. I’m sorry I decided to go that route. I’m sorry I decided to go out for a drive. I’m just so very sorry.

These decisions cost Katie her life.

Billy has lost his partner. Sandra and I have lost a perfect little friend, our ‘pocket rocket’.

I’m so sorry my 15-year-old friend Ellie had to witness this. She should never have seen such an awful thing or have been put in this sort of situation.

Thank you to everyone who helped, especially a man who stops to help and gives a witness statement. If only everyone was like you.

Thank you to Sandra, my best friend who immediately came to my rescue. We are both owner/carers to all our animals and I know how much this has hurt her.

Our neighbours also come as soon as they’re asked. Thank you Emma, Rhiannon and David.

The vet and emergency services are very professional, caring and considerate. To the paramedics, I’m sorry  for your distress on seeing this scene of devastation. You are taught to handle seeing humans in bad situations, but not a defenceless animal.

I stay with Katie until she goes to sleep.

Horse riders and drivers matter too

Since that fateful day, people say I should choose quieter roads to ride or drive on. Well, no. Horse riders and carriage drivers have the right to be on the road. Our yard is one mile along this road from the nearest bridleway or quiet lane.

It’s not about how quiet roads are, it’s about all drivers abiding by simple guidelines set out in the Highway code. It’s about them having respect, care and patience for all road users.

  • Pass horses slow and wide: at least 2m distance and max 10mph.
  • Do not pull away at high speed, with a revving engine and spinning wheels.
  • Be prepared to stop.
  • Wait until it is safe to pass slowly and allowing enough room.

Why is this so difficult for some motorists to understand or do?

We need equestrian access plans for Carmarthenshire, Wales or better still the whole UK. It’s time that more is done to make sure we are safe on the road. Give us back the riding routes that have become cycle paths; let us share safe routes, active travel routes, leisure routes. Change the law and let us have the right to access cycle paths in the same way as cyclists can access our bridleways. We just want the chance to share roads safely.

We matter too.

Please don’t let someone else’s pony go through what Katie did. She deserved so much better.

Katie, I miss you and I always will.

Taking yourself for walks when we first had you; the love you and Billy had like an old married couple (I will cuddle him for you). The freedom and enjoyment you have given me is immeasurable. I will miss all the waves and smiles we got when out and about together and I know you will miss all the fuss and treats.

Rest easy Katie. I will see you again.

If you are involved in an incident or near-miss on the road and you have video footage, report it to the police immediately via Operation Snap. You should also report it to the British Horse Society via the Horse I app

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