Learning to navigate safely around other road users is a key part of learning to drive – whether this means other cars, cyclists, pedestrians or even horses. But how should you react to seeing a horse in the road? The most important thing to remember is not to panic and to take your time. Don’t forget to pass wide and slow to make sure that everyone stays safe.
It’s not uncommon to see horses on the road and usually they will be on their way to the closest bridle path. Normally riders will be wearing hi-vis jackets and will be travelling in the same direction as the traffic, so you should be able to spot them easily and react in time. In the Highway Code is states that you should:
• take 'great care' and 'treat all horses as a potential hazard'
• 'pass wide and slowly' when passing a horse and always listen to a rider's request to slow down or stop.
According to the British Horse Society 3,737 road accidents involving horses have been reported to them since 2010. In a recent campaign they stated that only 10% of accidents are actually reported, which means that the true number could be much higher. Follow these simple steps to make sure that you’re driving safely around horses:
1. Pass wide and slow
Slow down and wait until it’s safe to pass. When it’s safe for you to overtake, remember to leave plenty of space between you and the horse to avoid spooking the horse. Being too close gives neither you nor the rider chance to react to any unexpected events. You should also pass at 15mph.
2. Drive away slowly
Most people think that once they are safely past, they can speed away – but increasing your speed rapidly causes a lot of engine noise that might spook the horse and cause injury to the rider. Gradually build up speed once you’ve overtaken, until you’re a safe distance away.
3. Be prepared to stop
Horses can be unpredictable, so always be prepared to stop quickly and safely – this is much easier to do if you’re already following the 15mph guideline!
4. Slow down at corners and blind bends – especially down country roads
Country roads are the most common place to see horses out on the road, so make sure that you bear this in mind when you’re driving in rural areas. These roads are notoriously narrow and winding, so make sure that you slow down when approaching sharp corners or blind bends. This means that you’ll be able to slow down in time if there’s a horse and rider on the other side.
5. Be patient
Don’t rev your engine or honk your horn. Loud noises could frighten the horse and put you all in danger.
6. Listen to the rider’s instructions
If the horse is already spooked, the rider might signal you to slow down sooner. They will normally hold out and arm and slowly wave it up and down, so keep and eye out for their signals. Horse riders will also often indicate that they’re planning to turn, much like a cyclist. They will hold their left or right arm out straight to let you know.
Riders will often thank you for your considerate driving by raising their hand (but sometimes they will need to keep both hands on the reins and will nod their head instead). So, keep an eye out for this little gesture of thanks!