Why we riders have to take some responsibility for our own safety on the roads *H&H Plus*

  • Opinion

    If ever a post about horses’ being on the road appears on social media, in a non-equestrian group, you can guarantee some of the responses.

    There will be someone saying “horses shouldn’t be on the road anyway”. Someone will moan about poo. Someone will advise riding in “all those fields” instead.

    It will get heated. Arguments will start.

    There will also be comments from riders saying we’ve got “more right” to be on the roads than cars. Someone will say “horses were here first”. I’ve seen people ask “why should we have to say thank you to drivers who pass properly?” and “why should we have to wear high-vis?” I’ve seen someone say any collision on the road is always the driver’s fault.

    Yes, we should all be able to ride our horses on the road without fear of being hit by an irresponsible driver. But equally, we should all be able to own tack and equipment and not have it stolen by some low-life – but that doesn’t mean we don’t lock the tack room door. If you didn’t, and your tack was stolen, people would be sympathetic but they’d also ask why you hadn’t secured your stuff.

     It’s the same with horses on the road. Although we shouldn’t “have to”, I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t take every precaution possible to improve their safety. Decking yourself and your horse out like a Christmas tree in high-vis gear, whatever the weather, is one way. It won’t prevent some accidents, but it will mean drivers see you sooner and better, and are more likely to be able to give you room.Another is, as a police officer – a mounted officer who’s taken part in a close-pass operation with the British Horse Society – recently said in H&H, ensuring horses are ready for the road. The officer got a huge amount of grief for this comment, with people saying it would give anti-horse people more grist for their mill.

    But she’s right. My big mare is scared of some traffic, which means it’s not safe to take her on the roads on her own. If everyone passed wide and slow she’d be fine, but because I know that’s very unlikely, I don’t take her out on her own. It’s my right to be on those roads, but my responsibility, to my mare and others, is not to put her in that situation. I wouldn’t take a just-backed horse or one new to me out on our road either as it’s not a very safe one. It would be better to get to know the horse first, then box it to somewhere I could ride with a friend, on quieter roads, first, to gauge its reactions. It would be better to know it would respond to leg aids and was happy to stand if needed, to give myself, and the horse, the best chance of staying safe.

    Similarly, I think it’s hugely important to effusively thank anyone who does pass properly. Of course there may be situations where it’s unsafe to take a hand off the reins but a big nodding smile, or a called “thank you”, is, I think, vital. The driver may only be doing the sensible thing, and driving according to the Highway Code, but he has gone out of his way to accommodate us, so why would we not thank him? If we don’t, he may feel aggrieved enough not to be so careful next time – which is when we could have a problem.

    We all – drivers, riders, walkers, cyclists – have the right to be on public highways. But we all also have responsibilities, to ourselves, other road users and our horses. We need to do all we can to maximise our chances of safety.

    The biggest issue with drivers is lack of education – although the excellent work of the British Horse Society, the Pass Wide and Slow group and others is making a huge difference – but we have to also educate ourselves and realise we can make a difference.

    Let’s say that the government passes a decree that horses do have more right on the roads than people, and that the Highway Code became legislation.

    So you go out, confident in the knowledge of your superior right to be on the road. Coming up behind you us a driver who wasn’t thanked by the last rider. He’s annoyed and late, and driving too fast. He doesn’t see you because the sun’s low and you haven’t got high-vis on, and he has to brake hard, spooking your horse, to pull in behind you as you’re on a corner.

    Secure in the knowledge you’ve got more right to be there, you don’t trot on or pull into a passing place. The driver gets more annoyed and overtakes, into the path of an oncoming car. He swerves left, instinctively.

    It wouldn’t make much difference then who had more right to be there.

    Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts by writing to hhletters@ti-media.com for a chance to see your views in H&H magazine and you could win a bottle of Champagne Taittinger (please include your name and address; letters may be edited).

    You may also be interested in…