Horses are powerful animals and have extremely heightened senses. They are also ‘flight’ animals, and can revert to their natural instincts at any time. The outcome of this can be extremely challenging for riders and other road users.
In fact, there have been 2,570 road incidents reported to the British Horse Society in the last six years. Some 38 riders have been killed, and 222 horses have died as a result of their injuries. Of these incidents, 80% were because a vehicle passed too fast or too close to the horse.
IAM RoadSmart’s Head of Driving & Riding standards, Richard Gladman, gives his professional advice on riding and driving around horses:
· If you are approaching a horse from behind, hold back while getting enough information to pass safely. Don’t get any closer than three vehicle lengths, and be careful not to creep into this space. Be prepared to slow down further or even stop to protect this space. Avoid sudden movements, as horses may react and can move incredibly quickly.
· Don’t spook them. Actions such as sounding your horn, revving your engine and/or playing loud music can spook a horse, so always drive gently and predictably. Remember, there are three brains working, the driver’s, the rider’s and the horse’s.
· Make sure you give riders enough space when passing them – at least a vehicle’s width – and make sure this is done at no more than 15mph. Always pass ‘slow and wide.’
· Often when riding two abreast it is for safety reasons, an inexperienced rider or a nervous animal being coached along by a more experienced companion. Give them some consideration.
· Keep an eye out for the rider. They will often give you signals asking you to stop or slow down. Riders will often acknowledge a safe pass, but remember their top priority is to keep their hands on the reins and maintain control of the horse.
· Always accelerate gently once you have passed a horse. A rider and horse may both be inexperienced and nervous in traffic.
“Dealing safely with horses is a classic example of where applying the rules of good driving helps us to share space safely,” Richard Gladman said. “Use the information around you – road signs, horses in fields, horse muck on the road or signs to an equestrian centre are all clues to help you anticipate meeting riders on the road. Controlling your speed so you can deal with the unexpected is very important in rural areas. After that, be sensible – don’t get too close and remember that ‘wide and slow’ is the mantra.”