Two horrific accidents involving horses being spooked by cycling races has led to calls for the sport’s governing body to improve safety.

Thanks to Sir Bradley Wiggins and Britain’s Olympic success, cycling is more popular than ever. Since last July, membership of British Cycling has grown by 50%, to some 75,000 members.

But the increase in timed rides and fast-moving pelotons has alarmed riders and led to some serious incidents.

Recent accidents
At 10.30am on Sunday, 9 June, Justina Bailey and her friend Sally-Ann Smart were out riding in Upper Broughton, near Melton Mowbray, Leics, when they met a British Cycling-run road race.

Justina’s 14-year-old hunter Buster was spooked by the large number of bikes. He reared and fell on her, breaking her ribs, pelvis and shoulder, as well as leaving her with internal bleeding, a split spleen and liver and collapsed lung.

Justina ended up in intensive care and says she will not ride again.

“It breaks my heart but I have to be sensible. Buster is normally bombproof. If we’d had warning [of the race], we would never have gone out, but there were no signs,” she said.

British Cycling said that “all signage warning other users” was in place and that the accident was not caused by one of the race participants.

“We understand that the incident occurred some distance away from the event, and involved a cyclist independent from the race,” said a spokesman.

Justina and Sally-Ann dispute this, saying the horses were definitely spooked by the volume of bikes. Justina is taking legal advice.

A week later, a horse died in a second incident involving a mass road cycling event. Jo Flew and her daughter were out riding in Maresfield, East Sussex, on 16 June.

They were caught up in a “sportive event” — a privately run non-competitive event in which cyclists, around 500 on this occasion, seek to improve their times.

Jo’s horse Jazzy was spooked by the mass of bikes and kicked out, breaking the leg of her daughter’s horse Willow. The 10-year-old was so badly injured she had to be put down.

Mrs Flew also said there was a lack of information about the event, with no posters, or previous warnings to enable riders to avoid it.

BHS takes action
Sheila Hardy of the British Horse Society (BHS) says complaints about individual cyclists have dropped in the past two years — but those against sportives are on the rise.

Mrs Hardy said she has contacted British Cycling, asking it to regulate sportives better.

“They are unregulated and riders set off in big groups, going hell for leather,” she said. “They may not be run by British Cycling, but someone has to take responsibility.” She is urging riders to log incidents on the BHS horse accidents website (www.horseaccidents.org.uk)

British Cycling has a safety leaflet, put together with the BHS. Ms Hardy says the organisation needs to push this advice more to its members.

The BHS also says there is limited information about passing horses in the Government’s Bikeability scheme (previously Cycling Proficiency). The BHS will be writing to Bikeability to urge it to address this.

Rupert Rivett from SRS events organised the event that Mrs Flew was caught up in. He told H&H they will learn from the “awful incident”.

“We put posters out, but to inform everyone is impossible. But after this, we will definitely contact large [riding] centres,” he said.

He is putting together a report for British Cycling and wants the organisation to make a safety video about horses aimed at cyclists.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (4 July 2013)