Rewind just a few years and horses were seen in abundance on our streets. Once used for just about everything from a form of general transport to assisting farmers with their workload.
Fast forward back to today and times have changed rather drastically. More of a hobby now, horses are seen far less periodically on our roads and when they are, finding someone who is pleased to see them is an even less likely event.
Sucked in by a modern society that tells us we must always be switched on, always in a rush, always moving from A to B at a fast pace, horses are now seen as an inconvenience. Long gone are the times when people found the time in their days to relish in the sight of an animal as majestic as a horse. Now, they are merely seen as an object blocking their speedy journey to wherever it is they may be going.
A reminder: Your life does not matter more than theirs
Sitting inside a metal box, it is easy to feel a wash of invisibility. Enwrapped in the mentality that “it won’t happen to me” cars speeding past too close and too fast is a reality that many horse riders face these days.
So consumed are we all in our own lives and our own busy schedules, it becomes all too easy to forget that sitting atop that horse in front of you is a human. A human much like yourself who probably has a group of friends that loves them, a family waiting back home. A mum, a child, a daughter, a son, a niece, or nephew – they are a human just like you who also has hopes and dreams, plans for their future. And with them is a horse that is a part of their family. All of which could be wiped away in a matter of minutes by a reckless car driver.
And your choices as a driver could see that very same horse and rider hurtling through your windscreen. Your choices could result in that horse making it back to the stable that night or being put to sleep on the side of the road as the rider is rushed to hospital and your car is sent for scrap.
The thing is, whether you think horses should be on the road or not, they have the same right to be on the road as cars do. The problem lies not in horses being on the roads but more in the attitude that some drivers have that leads them to believe that they have more of a right to the road than any other user.
And that isn’t just my opinion either. In fact, statistics produced by the British Horse Society (BHS) show that from 2018-2019, 845 incidents involving horses on the road were reported to them. Of those 845, a staggering 73% occurred due to vehicles passing too closely. That's 73% of incidents that would not have occurred had drivers shown enough respect to pass them safely.
What it comes down to really is this; sitting inside a car does not mean that your life matters any more than the life of someone sitting on a horse. And really you should be ashamed if you think it does. You should be equally as ashamed if you justify your choices to skim past a horse or fail to slow down when you see one on the road by arguing that “they shouldn’t be there anyway”.
Horse riders are part of a wider group of vulnerable road users
Horse riders are part of a wider group of road users who, unfortunately, face abuse and a complete disregard from many car drivers and it doesn’t make for a pleasant experience for anyone.
I, like many other riders, have faced abuse and have felt that gut-wrenching feeling you get when you can hear a car approaching at speed but there is nothing you can do but hope it passes you wide enough to not hit you. I’ve had to ask my horse to jump onto the pavement to get out of the way of a speeding car, I’ve felt the gush of wind as a car has come too close to my leg, I’ve had abuse hurled at me, and I’ve had people sound their horn at me. The list goes on and while many horse riders, myself included, would love nothing more than to be able to avoid riding on the roads altogether it’s unfortunately not a realistic wish. With more and more housing estates being built across bridleways, reaching many of them now involves roadwork.
Perhaps, rather than focusing on why or whether horses should be there, it would be better for car drivers to ask whether they could deal with the guilt of killing someone for the sake of a few minutes. Because in reality, if you don’t have time to take a few minutes out of your day to hit your brakes, then you definitely don’t have the time to deal with the aftermath of hitting a horse.
What should drivers do when they see a horse on the road
- Slow down to a maximum of 15mph AND leave at least a car width space between you and the horse as you pass them.
- Pay attention to hand signals from the rider – if they are asking you to stop or slow down, it is for your safety as much as it is for their own and their horse’s.
- Don’t sound your horn, rev your engine or shout at the rider as you pass, both increase the chances of there being an accident.
- Drive away slowly.
What can horse riders do to improve their safety on the roads
- Wear hi-vis with reflective bands and lights to give drivers those vital extra seconds they need to notice that you’re there.
- Continue to thank the drivers that do slow down and pass you safely.
- Report any dangerous road incidents that occur to the BHS – the more that are logged, the more coverage this issue will begin to get.
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