horses on the road

Safely sharing the road with horses

Horses are easily scared – here's how to approach them

There are 3.5 million regular riders and nearly a million horses in the UK according to the British Horse Society, so there’s a fair chance you’ll come across horses and riders on the road at some point.

Responsible riders will try to avoid busy or fast roads and will wear 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 do spot a horse:

  • 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 such as splashing them with puddles, sounding your horn or revving your engine
  • 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 the reins and maintain control, most will smile or nod their thanks instead
  • Accelerate gently once you've passed the horse

Sharing the roads

Bear in mind
  • Rider and horse may both be inexperienced and nervous in traffic
  • A horse and rider intending to turn right will stay on the left until they reach the turn – unlike a cyclist or motorcyclist who will pull across to the centre of the road well before
  • Riders generally try to avoid difficult junctions like 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

Horses are '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’ll encounter horses

Advice for riders

The Highway Code gives detailed advice to riders:

  • Wear light-coloured or fluorescent clothing in daylight and reflective clothing at night or in poor visibility
  • It’s safer not to ride on the road at night or in poor visibility
  • Ride with other, less nervous horses if you think that your horse will be nervous of traffic
  • Keep to the left on the road
  • Move in the direction of the traffic flow in a one-way street
  • Never ride more than two abreast
  • Ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends
  • Avoid roundabouts wherever possible

Horse-drawn vehicles

If you come across a horse-drawn 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


14 February 2017

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