A highway is not a horse’s natural habitat, and many drivers are unfamiliar with equines, but you can reduce the risk of riding on the roads. Briony Reed finds out how
Road riding is no one’s first choice, but is often a necessary evil. Keeping yourself and your horse safe is crucial, and as our roads get ever busier it makes sense to ramp up your precautions to the maximum.
Prepare yourself and your horse before you even set hoof on the tarmac. Alan Hiscox, director of safety at the British Horse Society (BHS), says: “It is important to familiarise yourself with the Highway Code and follow its guidance on how you should behave on the road and interact with other road users. Make sure you can control your horse and, if your horse is nervous, ride with horses who are confident on the roads.
“Train your horse to stand, so that if any difficulties arise you can deal with them while the horse is still.”
Caroline Stevenson BHSI, chief instructor at Wimbledon Village Stables and BHS regional equestrian safety adviser for London, works with new equine arrivals at the urban yard to familiarise them with roadwork.
“We introduce any new horse to roadwork on the left-hand side of a pair and in an experienced small group,” she says. “If you have the option, riding in a larger group will help to slow the traffic as well as reassure the horse, or a person on foot can help an inexperienced horse or rider. Unless you are familiar with riding and leading, don’t attempt to lead another horse on the road.”
Alan’s knowledge comes also from 14 years as chief equitation officer at the Metropolitan Police’s training centre, Imber Court. He adds: “Even the most confident of horses can be startled on the roads and move away quickly from something they perceive to be a threat, such as a fast-approaching vehicle, so remain alert at all times and aware of your surroundings.”
Given that some horses regard a leaf or a crisp packet as a threat, never mind a car – Caroline remarks, “Sometimes they are more scared of the road markings than of the traffic” – know your horse and work on desensitisation.
“It is possible to desensitise your horse at home or in the stable to strange noises and sights,” advises Alan. “Take your time and start using small objects and distance, and you can improve your horse’s acceptance of many things.”
Caroline adds: “If you have a secure field near a road, keeping your horse in that field will help to accustom him to traffic.”
Improve your knowledge by taking the BHS Ride Safe Award. Ride Safe followed the Society’s Dead Slow campaign, launched in response to the horrifying number of
road incidents involving horses: between November 2010 and March 2019, 3,737
such incidents resulting in the deaths of 43 people and 315 horses were reported to the BHS. Dead Slow educates drivers on how to pass horses safely, but riders have a responsibility, too.
“Ride Safe will equip riders with the confidence to ride in a range of environments,” says Alan. “It covers riding safely on the road, along rights of way, across agricultural land, at the beach and when warming up at competitions.
“It also includes negotiating hazards and obstacles, understanding common signs, and dealing with conflict or difficult situations.”
Insurance is essential. Lottie Gibbens, equine policy handler at KBIS, says: “The most important insurance consideration in relation to road safety is public liability cover, also referred to legal liability insurance. Public liability insurance protects you against claims made by third parties for property damage or bodily injury caused by your horse.
“If, for example, your horse spooked and damaged a car, or a pedestrian was injured attempting to get out of the way, you would be responsible for any costs incurred as a result. If a claim is filed against you, not only could you be liable for damages but you could also face the possibility of a lengthy claims process.
“Having a suitable public liability policy in place will not only cover you for any costs incurred, such as compensation due and legal costs – which may apply whether or not you are found liable – it will also mean that your insurer will deal with the claim on your behalf, appointing a solicitor and handling documentation.”
Alan reiterates this: “The BHS strongly advises riders to take out public liability insurance. If a rider’s horse or a horse in their care causes injury or damage to property, they may be liable to pay considerable costs. BHS Gold membership includes public liability insurance up to £30m.”
Bright ride, fluoro-tailed
Rural areas have less traffic than urban areas, but it may be moving faster – and sat-navs mean more non-local drivers on minor roads. The sooner you are spotted, the more time a driver has to react to seeing you. With the average stopping distance of a car travelling at 40mph being 24m, that time is needed.
High-vis options include jackets, gilets, hat bands, leg bands, neck straps, exercise sheets, tail guards and ear covers; in fluorescent and reflective materials, and with LED lights.Highlighting your width is important, and movement will help drivers to see you.
“The BHS recommends as a minimum a high-vis jacket or tabard for the rider and leg bands for the horse,” says Alan.
Nicky Fletcher, managing director of Equisafety – manufacturer of the Charlotte Dujardin and Polite ranges – explains the effect of different colours.
“Yellow seems to be the colour choice of many equestrians, perhaps because it seems to be the brightest. However, it can seem to lose its colour when riding along a leafy road on a sunny day. Pink is ideal in that situation and, along with red/orange, would be the best colour in the countryside. On a grey, foggy day, yellow can lose lucidity and red/orange would be best as it works well against grey – lifeboats are an example of this.”
Wearing hi-vis isn’t legally required, but undoubtedly increases your chances of being seen – and also makes you easier for emergency services to spot off the roads should you have a fall, or for pilots of low-flying aircraft to see you and take evasive action.
Your clothing should be both fluorescent and reflective – both the Highway Code and the BHS advise against riding in poor visibility or in the dark, but, should events take an unexpected turn and you find yourself doing so, reflective material is essential.
Nicky explains: “Fluorescent fabric alone is not enough. It makes you visible in strong daylight, but in lower light, retro-reflective taping on the garment comes into its own.
“When light, such as from a car headlight, hits retro-reflective tape, prisms in the tape reflect the light back towards its source rather than diffusing it like a mirror, and so it is very bright and defines rather than distracts.
“The main thing to remember is that you need fluorescent fabric for daytime visibility, but reflective tape or fabric around dawn or dusk. Observe how other riders’ high-vis clothing works in different scenery, and at different times of day and of the year. See which colours and colour combinations work best. Check that their reflective strips actually do reflect in headlights, and ask them to do the same for you – that way you’ll all be riding safely on the roads (or elsewhere) at any time.”
For leisure use, high-vis clothing should meet the EN1150 standard, and for professional use the standard to check for is EN471.
Make sure your phone is charged and carried securely. Download the What3words app to enable anyone to find your precise location if something goes wrong. Some riders like to wear a hat cam. If you do, bear in mind the following points. As Alan says, “The BHS appreciates that it is not always possible to remember the details of an incident in order to report them to the police, which is why some riders choose to wear a head or body camera.”
However, he adds, “Due to a lack of research on whether such devices have a negative effect on rider injury when falling or being struck by an object, every rider should carry out a personal risk assessment before deciding to wear a camera while riding.”
Do check also whether wearing a hat cam affects your insurance – contact your provider.
Once on the road, the position you choose to take will affect both your safety and the ease with which traffic can flow around you.
Alan says: “For guidance on riding safely, riders should look to the Highway Code, which advises riding no more than two abreast and travelling in single file where road conditions and traffic require you to do so. Ultimately it is a decision for the rider to make, as riding two abreast may be appropriate if you are escorting a young or inexperienced horse or rider, so that they can be on the inside.”
Adopting a defensive position on the road – for example, giving yourself space next to a ditch or riding two abreast to stop traffic racing past – is only wise, but be sure to thank considerate drivers.
A driver held up by riders oblivious to his presence may be less considerate next time he passes horses. Ride in single file over a narrow bridge, for example, or around a corner. If a car is waiting behind you and you can do so safely, pull in and allow them to pass. Don’t, however, signal to them to do so (see information below).
Ultimately, we want to minimise our time on the roads and maximise our safety, as just one of a group of vulnerable road users. The more effort put into that, the smoother everyone’s journey can be.
Myths and misconceptions
Alan Hiscox says: “Caution messages on high-vis jackets do not influence or impact liability claims. Liability in any accident will depend on the circumstances, but use of conspicuous clothing will maximise the likelihood that other road users will detect horses and riders. There is a little-to-no direct evidence that warnings on high-vis clothing increase its effectiveness, and the BHS recommends keeping messages to a minimum to ensure the effectiveness of the jacket is not compromised.”
Riders should not signal traffic to pass them, even if the road ahead is clear. It is the driver’s responsibility to assess the risk of passing a horse and rider, and they should do so only if they are certain that there is space and time for them to pass.
Ref: Horse & Hound; 19 November 2020
You may also be interested in:
“There would now be an absolute definition of how road users should pass horses”
The British Horse Society produced the film after successfully bidding for £40,000 of funding from the Warwickshire Police and Crime