Expert advice from HORSE Magazine on understanding the Highway Code and how it affects riders on the road

If horseriders and drivers stick to the highway code, there will be less horse-related accidents. So how well do you know the rules?

The Highway Code states that every rider should:

  • When riding on a public highway, children under 14 must wear a hat that complies with safety standards and is fastened securely.
  • Wear boots or shoes with hard soles and heels – NOT trainers.
  • Wear light/fluorescent clothes in daylight.
  • Wear reflective clothing at night, with a white light to the front and red to the rear.
  • Ensure you can control the horse.
  • Make sure your tack fits well and is in good condition before setting off. Never ride without a saddle or bridle on the roads.
  • Look behind before riding off or signalling.
  • Keep to the left hand side and move with the traffic flow in a one-way street.
  • Keep both feet in the stirrups.
  • Not carry another person.
  • Keep both hands on the reins, except when signalling.
  • Keep a led horse to your left.
  • Never ride more than two abreast, and ride single file if the road narrows or bends.
  • Never ride or lead a horse on a motorway, footpath, pavement or cycle track.
  • Avoid roundabouts if possible. If you have to use them, keep to theleft and signal right when riding across exits. Signal left just before leaving the roundabout.

When passing a horse, drivers should:

  • Pass wide (give as much room as when overtaking a car) and go slow (15mph).
  • Not sound the horn or rev the engine.
  • Stay vigilant for horseriders’ signals.
  • Be aware that a rider or horse on the inside of a double file may be traffic shy.
  • Heed any rider’s request to slow down.
  • Treat all horses as a potential hazard.

Understanding liability

Horseowners are bound by the Animals Act which means that the person responsible for the horse is also responsible and liable in law for any damage or accident the horse causes. The only defences are if the damage was the fault of the person suffering it or the risk was accepted voluntarily.

However, if a horse and rider happened to be injured in a road accident involving a car, then, for the driver to be liable, it would have to be proved he was negligent.

An injured rider (as well as the owner, if different) would have a strong claim for damages if the driver was found, for example, to be exceeding the speed limit or driving without due care and attention.

Other situations which would most likely count against the driver can include:

  • If he had passed a horse warning sign.
  • If the driver already knew that horses were frequentlyridden out on the roads in that specific area.
  • If he was local and knew the area
  • If the driver happened to be prosecuted and convicted of either reckless or careless driving, the conviction would be admissible in civil proceedings, which might help to prove negligence.
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