Riders must change their behaviour if they want safer roads, according to journalist Lizzie Greenwood-Hughes.
The rider and broadcaster spoke at the British Horse Society’s the Real Horsepower Safety Conference at the Royal Veterinary College in Hertfordshire (6 June).
She urged riders to make it clear to drivers when they have passed a horse safely, as well as letting them know if their behaviour could be improved.
“I believe horses have an image problem,” Lizzie said. “Most people think they’re expensive toys for posh people, who waft about the lanes while real people are toiling away in their daily jobs.
“And I think increasingly many people see horses as a menace on the road, often riding two abreast, slow to get out the way, spooking and jumping, and they poo on dangerous bends.
“Most horsey people are perfectly ordinary, working people, who often have two jobs to pay for their horses, they just happen to have this affliction that they love horses and will spend every penny they have to keep them.
“But unfortunately, I don’t think we really do a lot to dispel that image. The riders [the public] see on television do appear superior, the people who do look very rich and the people who are millionaires. They see the hackers that don’t thank drivers.”
Lizzie said riders need to play a part in improving the image of equestrians if they want conditions on the road to improve.
“We need to make more of an effort to sell our passion to the wider public,” she said.
“In terms of the roads, we need to understand that unless the drivers coming across us out hacking also use the roads in a similar way, ie they jog or they cycle or they walk their dogs, the chances are they will not have a clue how they should drive past us. I don’t think it’s a town-country thing and it’s not all young people.
“We need to tell them when they’re good and tell them when they’re bad. We need to use our arms, we need to use our voices, and when they do slow down we need to absolutely love those people, we need to beam at them.
“You’ve got to absolutely love these people, you’ve got to say, ‘Thank you so much, that is so kind, I’m so grateful to you’. That’s what I do because that’s what’s keeping us safe.
“If a rider doesn’t do that to me, I stop my car — my children are so embarrassed — and I look back and say, ‘Where was the thank you?’ and they look at me like I’m some kind of scary lady and I say, ‘You’re making my life more dangerous, you’re putting my life at risk because you’re not loving those drivers that take the time to slow down’.
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“We have to play our part. We need to change how people perceive us and switch horses from Marmite to marmalade.
“We need to make the rest of the population love horses as much as we do.”
Don’t miss next week’s Horse & Hound magazine, out Thursday 14 June, for full coverage of the Real Horsepower Safety Conference and what riders can do to improve road safety.