More than 7 million viewers tuned in to see riding and road safety feature on BBC One’s Countryfile on Sunday night.
Presenter Tom Heap spoke to riders and the British Horse Society (BHS) to learn about the scale of the safety issue and to ask what could be done to help.
Among those he interviewed was Gillian Singleton, who lost her 19-year-old gelding Digby in a tragic road accident in September. The driver said he did not see them.
Shocking footage of vehicles passing fast and close to riders was also shown.
However, some of the advice given — not by the BHS — has sparked wide-spread heated debate. One interviewee said riders should not ride two abreast and said that dismounting is “the best thing” if your horse is getting fractious or nervous. This opinion is not shared by the BHS.
“We appreciate that any TV programme like this has to be balanced and show different opinions on a subject, that’s what makes it a newsworthy feature,” said BHS director of safety, Sarah Phillips.
“Our main aim at being part of the programme was to highlight what drivers should be doing when they approach a horse on the road and what riders can do to stay safe when they have to go onto our roads.
“The programme also featured other spokespeople appointed by the BBC and not BHS, who do not share the same views or opinions of the BHS.
“For example, we always advise riders to wear the appropriate safety clothing when riding, even if it is a sunny day.
“Wearing hi-viz does make a difference. Those extra three seconds in which drivers might see you could save your life and that of your horse.
“Wherever you are and whatever the weather, hi-viz for both horse and rider is essential.
“We don’t share the same views as the other spokesperson featured on riders riding two-abreast on the road, as we know in some circumstance this is necessary.”
A poll by the AA found 17% of drivers thought horses should be banned from the roads; 8% did not know the correct way to pass a horse and 6% had experienced a near miss.
According to figures from the BHS, there have been 2070 accidents and near misses involving horses on Britain’s roads in the past five years — working out at more than one per day.
In the same time frame, 36 riders and 181 horses have lost their lives on the roads.
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Ms Phillips added these statistics are just the accidents that have been reported to them and they believe the actual numbers to be “much higher”.
“We worked hard to put across the key messages of the BHS’s Dead or Dead Slow campaign to an audience that might not have heard about it and may not even realise the enormity of this problem,” she said.
“This was a great opportunity to highlight the dangers that horse riders face every day on our roads.
“We know it’s a sensitive subject and that opinions can be divided. We hope that out of the 7.2 million people that watch Countryfile, this feature has raised awareness on road safety for riders, and if it has prevented at least one accident on our roads involving horses, then this is a positive thing.”