For me, hacking out on my horse is one of the best ways to spend a sunny day – what's not to like about cantering through a field or along a track surrounded by beautiful countryside! However, for most of us, going out for a hack usually involves riding on the roads, an action which is becoming increasingly dangerous. We hear more and more reports of terrible accidents involving cars but there is actually no official requirement from the government to record road accidents involving horses unless a person needs to be taken directly to hospital. A horse's life or suffering is of no consequence according to them!
This is why The British Horse Society have taken it upon themselves to document these incidents, providing an online form to report horse related road accidents, including near misses, past and present.
According to the BHS there are over 3000 accidents each year involving horses and riders on the roads in the UK alone. I think we all agree, something needs to change, but rather than sit around talking about it, we all need to act!
Ride Yorkshire is one of many organisations who are working to change this, and to make horse and rider road safety a priority for all road users, including equestrians! Ride Yorkshire is a not-for-profit social enterprise which operates in Yorkshire, working to help riders in the area by doing things like providing hacking route suggestions and even organising horsey holidays in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. Janet Cochrane is one of the leading figures behind Ride Yorkshire, and she is helping to organise an event on 21st May which aims to raise awareness regarding horse and rider road safety. With the help of the University of York Riding Club (which I am a proud member of…) Janet and between six and eight other horses and riders will set off from the University Campus, riding around a designated route along the roads of York. Janet told me,
“We really hope that the ride will make people think about horses and riders on the road; we want to make ourselves obvious, but without getting in the way too much, so we are going to be wearing florescent tabards and handing out information about what we’re doing along the way. We’re hoping to get the local media involved, and the local police and council have been helpful too”.
Explaining why she decided to organise the ride, Janet said,
“Our aim is to make people aware that the roads are a place for horses and riders as much as cars and cyclists. We want to help people to realise that actually, as equestrians we are short of places to ride out other than the roads, and that all road users therefore need to learn to respect one-another”.
Because the ride is setting out from the university, she hopes that it will encourage young people to think differently about their attitude to riders on the road.
“We know that lots of students have cars, but many do not have much driving experience simply because of their age. We just want to help as many people as possible to be safe on the roads; at the end of the day, we want to make the roads a safe place not just for us riders, but for everyone”.
As many of us are aware from the many tragic stories and news articles shared on social media, horse and rider road safety is an issue which can’t be ignored any longer. Janet explained,
“rider road safety is becoming more and more important because there are so many cars on the road now. People simply aren’t aware of the right way to pass horses safely because the information isn’t made available to them. There isn’t enough emphasis in the Highway Code on how to pass riders safely, and when learning to drive people tend to be given very little information about this”.
Through the ride in May, Janet hopes to make passing horses and riders safely a top priority for all road users.
Alongside the May event, there are many ways that riders can ensure that we maximise our safety on the roads. Janet stresses the importance of wearing florescent clothing when out hacking,
“So often I have seen riders out on the roads without High-Viz clothing, and from a distance they simply merge into their surroundings, especially if they’re on a dark coloured horse or out riding in bad light. Putting a florescent tabard on before you leave the yard, and putting some reflectors on your horse, can make all the difference between a driver seeing you in good time and not being able to pick you out against the background”.
One of the main problems though is that other road users don't know the correct way to pass a horse safely. As riders, we understand that horses as prey animals can be easily spooked so to them, a cyclist can easily seem like something that might attack them.
“It is so important that cyclists coming up behind us let us know that they’re coming,” says Janet, “Generally, horses are fine with bikes passing them, but some might completely panic – the point is that you never know. If cyclists were to call out and say something like ‘Good Morning!’ from a distance, at least the horse and rider are made aware of them in advance”.
After all, if a horse were to kick out at a bike, it’s the cyclist who would probably suffer most, so this is for their own safety too. For car drivers, the recommended speed for passing a horse is 15mph, but what is crucial is that the driver allows a wide berth between the horse and the car. Janet pointed out that even if the horse is fine with cars,
“something could so easily spook them and cause them to jump out and hit the car”,
which could cause so much damage so caution is key.
This event being run by Ride Yorkshire is part of a nationwide campaign. On 21st May, many other groups across the country will organise similar rides to promote awareness regarding road safety. If you wish to support one of these rides yourself, visit the ‘Pass Wide and Slow’ Facebook page, which whilst also acting as a place to report road safety incidents, gives you the opportunity to get involved with local sub-groups too. If you are lucky enough to live in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside like me, Janet would love to hear from you via the Ride Yorkshire website.
Please share your experiences of riding on the roads below…