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Horses on the road – top safety tips for drivers

With 3.5 million horse riders regularly taking to the UK's roads, it's likely you'll come across one when out on your travels one day – particularly if you're driving in the countryside. For some drivers, it can be a nerve-wracking experience, as you can never really tell how a horse is going to react.

So, with National Equestrian Safety Day taking place on 25th March, there's no better time for you to brush up on your horse safety knowledge. Here are some top tips on how to stay safe and feel confident when you next encounter a horse on the road.

Your responsibilities as a driver

Horses on the road.
Photo Credit: Maria Eklind Flickr via Compfight cc

Horses can be spooked by loud noises and sudden movements, like a bird flying or dog barking, and even experienced riders may find it tricky to calm them down. So, slow down as soon as you spot a horse, leave plenty of space when passing, and avoid doing anything that could startle them, like beeping or revving your engine.

Also, look out for gestures from the rider: they know their horse and might signal you to slow down or stop if they sense their animal is unsettled. Often, riders will 'pull in' to the side of the road and allow you to overtake safely – but if they don't, be patient and avoid taking unnecessary risks.

Responsibilities for horse riders

The Highway Code says riders should wear light-coloured or fluorescent clothing during the day and reflective clothing at night or in poor visibility. They should keep to the left and obey traffic flow signs in one-way streets.

Nervous horse? Sometimes riding with more experienced horses can help. That said, you should never ride more than two side-by-side, and make sure you ride single file on busy or narrow roads. Roundabouts should be avoided, as horses find them challenging to navigate.

Long or large vehicles and horse carriages

Long, large or unusual vehicles are most likely to spook horses, so if you drive one, allow lots of space when passing and move extra slow. Meeting a big vehicle could make the rider anxious about how their horse will react, which in turn may make the horse more nervous.

If you meet with a horse-drawn carriage on the road, the same rules apply. But bear in mind that the carriage is as long as a car and then there are horses in front, so it'll be twice as long. Carriage drivers will often use hand signals to warn you – pay close attention and only overtake when there's plenty of time and space to do so.

5 quick tips

  • Slow down as soon as you spot a horse.
  • Be prepared to stop.
  • Avoid loud noises and sudden movements.
  • Allow plenty of room for overtaking.
  • Watch out for the rider's signals to slow down or stop.

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