What Should You Know About Driving Around Horses?
The roads are busy places and a space we share with many other people. When learning to drive and through our experiences since passing our driving test, renting a car or hiring van, we’ll be well used to other vehicle drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, but it’s not as common, especially in built up areas, to be taught how to safely drive when we encounter a horse in the road.
At some point, especially when we’re driving in more rural areas, it’s inevitable that we’ll encounter a horse and rider and it’s important to know how to behave around them in order to stay safe and show consideration for both.
Why Are Horses On The Road In The First Place?
Like cyclists and pedestrians, horse riders have a right to be on the road which pre-dates the automobile. Ask a horse rider however and they’d much rather not be there. Unfortunately, getting to the places where they’d prefer to ride usually involves riding along the road in order to reach a better place to exercise their horse.
Horses Have a Mind of Their Own
One for the most important things to understand when driving around horses is that horses have a mind of their own, which, while being trained to listen to the instructions of the rider, is also conditioned by its evolution as a ‘flight animal’. Horses evolved as ‘prey animals’ which means that they’re hardwired to run first and ask questions later. In the face of a situation which appears threatening, or stressful, that behavior, which would have ensured their survival in the past, now manifests as a tendency to bolt, kick or otherwise behave unpredictably when encountering anything which might seem to be a threat. You know that a plastic bag flapping in a bush is less threatening than a car, but a horse might not and might suddenly leap sideways to avoid the ‘scary bag’.
A horse you encounter on the road is likely to be under the control of a rider, who you might expect to only take their horse onto the road when they can safely keep them under control, but bear in mind, horses need to become accustomed to the road as well, so it pays to drive with caution.
Driving Around Horses – Drive Slowly and Give Space
Another thing to understand about horses is that they have a very large ‘personal space’. Horses eyes are on the side of their head, so they have a much wider field of vision than their rider and can be very sensitive to people, cars or anything else getting too close. Enter a horses personal space when it’s not keen on you being there and the fight between training, evolution and experience begins, which is why it’s important to slow down, stay back and pass as widely as you can.
If you’re approaching from behind, the horse will probably know you’re there long before the rider does, so make sure you approach slowly to give the rider chance to notice, reassure the horse and prepare for what he or she knows the horse is likely to do. If visibility is limited, as is so often the case on winding country lanes, be patient, stay back and watch for signals from the rider, who may well be able to indicate when it’s safe to pass.
We mentioned earlier that horses can only get experience on the road by learning on the road. Sometimes you’ll see riders riding two abreast. Although they may movie into single file when traffic approaches, don’t assume that they’re being inconsiderate if they don’t. Inexperienced horses or riders often ride with more experienced riders and horses. The more experienced pair will typically ride on the outside to provide a safety buffer between the traffic and greener pair. Think of this as ‘L-Plates’ and be patient.
If you’re driving a car with a noisy engine or a larger vehicle, it might be helpful to pull right in, to be prepared to stop and even to turn your engine off if a horse is looking particularly agitated. Turning your stereo down can also help your car appear less threatening to a green horse. Never drive too close, never rev your engine and never sound your horn.
Share The Road Safely
They’re wonderful creatures, but it’s not often that we’re taught about safe driving around horses, so we hope that these tips will help you understand them and share the road more safely. The smile and wave you’re likely to get from a grateful rider is usually more than enough of a reward for being a considerate driver.