Drivers and horses

Advice for drivers and horse riders so that roads are shared safely

Section 96 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 creates the offence of driving with uncorrected defective eyesight

Section 96 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 creates the offence of driving with uncorrected defective eyesight

The British Horse Society estimates that there are 3.5 million regular riders and nearly 1 million horses in the UK so most drivers will come across horses and riders on the roads at some point.

Knowing how to drive around horses is vital for keeping you and them safe.

Easily scared

Horses are large and powerful animals; they are also 'flight' animals which makes them unpredictable and easily scared.

If something like a speeding car or a barking dog frightens a horse, its natural reaction will be to get away from whatever scared it. This will be sudden and could take them straight into the road and the path of your car - even an experienced rider on a well-behaved horse will struggle to control a horse in this situation.

Country lanes are the most common place you will encounter horses.  Given their size and power, a collision with a horse will endanger yourself and others in your car as well as the horse and its rider.

Responsible riders

Responsible horse riders will try to avoid busy/fast roads and will make themselves stand out by wearing high-visibility clothing, but driving carefully, particularly around bends on narrow roads, will help you spot horses and riders in time and react safely.

If you meet a horse on the road while driving:

  • Slow right down and be ready to stop
  • Give them a wide berth – at least a car’s width – and pass slowly
  • Avoid any actions likely to spook the horse(s) - splashing them with puddles, sounding your horn or revving your engine for example
  • Watch out for signals from the rider to slow down or stop
  • Don’t expect all riders to raise their hand in thanks when you drive considerately – if it’s not possible to take a hand off their reins and maintain control most will smile or nod their thanks instead.
  • Accelerate gently once you have passed the horse

Additionally, drivers should be aware that:

  • Rider and horse may both be inexperienced and nervous in traffic
  • Unlike a cyclist or motorcyclist who will pull across to the centre of the road well before turning right, a horse and rider intending to turn right will stay on the left until they reach the turn.
  • Horse riders will generally try to avoid difficult junctions such as roundabouts. If they do use them expect riders to keep left and signal right across exits to show that they’re not leaving.  Slow down and allow them plenty of room.

Highway Code, rule 215

Be particularly careful of horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles especially when overtaking. Always pass wide and slowly. Horse riders are often children, so take extra care and remember riders may ride in double file when escorting a young or inexperienced horse or rider. Look out for horse riders’ and horse drivers’ signals and heed a request to slow down or stop. Take great care and treat all horses as a potential hazard.

Highway Code advice for riders

Rules 49 to 55 of the Highway Code give detailed advice to riders and include the following advice:

  • Riders should wear light-coloured or fluorescent clothing in daylight and reflective clothing if riding at night or in poor visibility (50)
  • It is safer not to ride on the road at night or in poor visibility (51)
  • Always ride with other, less nervous horses if you think that your horse will be nervous of traffic (52)
  • When riding on the road keep to the left (53)
  • Move in the direction of the traffic flow in a one-way street (53)
  • Never ride more than two abreast (53)
  • Ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends (53)
  • Avoid roundabouts wherever possible (55)

Horse drawn vehicles

If you encounter a horsedrawn carriage on the road bear in mind that:

  • with a horse in front, a cart is likely to be longer than a car. Don't cut in too sharply after passing.
  • carriage drivers will use hand signals and position themselves in the road as a car would

(6 June 2014)