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Look out for horses — here's how to pass horse riders safely

Guidance from British Horse Society endorsed by British Cycling

The issue of how cyclists should overtake horses safely became a cause célèbre in 2018 when footage emerged of participants in the Windsor Triathlon passing an equestrian at speed, one hitting her and her horse as he passed on the inside.

> Police probe triathlon cyclist's undertake of horse rider

The vast majority of comments on social media were supportive of the horse rider and critical of the cyclists, so it's worth taking a refresher on not only what the Highway Code says about overtaking horses, but also to look at what is considered best practice.

Many people reacting to the story have pointed out that like cyclists, horse riders too are considered vulnerable road users, a point reinforced by the British Horse Society (BHS) in a leaflet it issued in 2016 entitled Code of Conduct for Horse Riders and Cyclists, which is also endorsed by British Cycling.

> Cyclists and horse riders urged to look out for each other after girl's pony spooked

The Code aims to provide “guidelines to ensure equestrians and cyclists co-exist harmoniously and safely when in close proximity,” with the BHS saying “There is room for everyone to enjoy riding out. Equestrians and cyclists are vulnerable road users. We share similar risks when riding on the road.”

While much of the document is specific to riding off-road, for example on bridleways, much of the advice given applies equally to the road, and some is specific to it.

“A horse is a friend and companion to the person who cares for him – to them he is priceless,” the BHS says. “However, while a cycle may not be a living animal, it has still cost the owner a great deal of money to buy and maintain,” it continues.

“A horse is unlikely to see or hear you, especially if you are approaching quietly from behind,” the BHS says. “Calling out ‘hello’ for walkers or equestrians is welcome and important in alerting horses and riders that you are there.

“Try not to get too close before you call out or you will startle both horse and rider. If possible, ask the horse rider if it is safe to pass before attempting to go by and call again if they haven’t heard you.

“If you decide to stand to the side of the path to allow equestrians to pass you, it is a good idea to make sure that the horse can still see you as it approaches, that way it will not be frightened when it suddenly spots you at the side of the track or road.

“If the horse you meet has been frightened by your presence, give the rider a chance to calm the horse and move out of your way before you move off again. Please don’t be annoyed if a horse rider doesn’t appear to acknowledge your kindness and consideration. They do appreciate your help but may be concentrating on controlling and calming their horse to avoid falling off.”

More often than not, it will be one cyclist passing one horse rider, but two sections are particularly relevant to Sunday’s events.

The first highlights the need to cyclists to slow down while taking part in an event. It says:  “If you are taking part in a cycling event, your concern will be to get by as quickly as possible, but please pass slowly with consideration and let riders know you are coming through.

“A speeding cyclist coming out of the blue may startle some horses and a group of speeding cyclists is even more likely to do so – take great care and if it is obvious you need to stop, then please do so; it may save a serious incident.

“Please heed a rider or carriage driver’s request to slow down or stop for the safety of all involved. Equestrians may be attempting to get out of your way into a safe place in order to let you pass – help them to do so by adjusting your speed and keeping a safe distance from them.”

The other reinforces the need to give horses a lot of room when overtaking them – and to do so on the right.

“Most horses are used to traffic passing them on the right so pass them as you would anyone else; don’t cut inside, and allow plenty of room in case the horse is surprised or startled,” the BHS says.

“Riders may need to ride two abreast for safety, particularly when escorting a young or inexperienced horse or rider – please give them a chance to sort themselves out before you go by.”

The BHS also addresses advice specifically to horse riders, including that “If you are riding on the road, be aware of any signs that might indicate a cycle race is taking place and heed warnings from any race marshal who might advise you of approaching cyclists,” and advising riders to check with British Cycling and Cycling Time Trials, as well as with local clubs, about any events that may be taken place.

The Windsor Triathlon was organised by Human Race under the supervision of British Triathlon, and one criticism levelled at the company by the horse rider concerned was that she had seen no signs warning her that the event was taking place.

But organisers, who are in contact with the rider, said: “Various measures were put in place to mitigate the chance of an incident of this nature, including the erection of advance warning signs about the event, the plans for which were drawn up by a professional traffic management company, this signage was put up along the route on Thursday 7 June [ten days before the event].

“Additional cycle event signage was also installed a day in advance of the event to bolster awareness for all road users. We are reviewing all signage & communication plans as part of our internal review exercise following this incident.”

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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22 comments

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Gary's bike channel | 3 years ago
1 like
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barbarus | 3 years ago
0 likes

When I was about 17, I was coming down a Dartmoor lane with my two brothers, all on MTBs.  There was a horse up ahead.  Brother 1 and 2 sailed past it, by the time I got there the horse was properly spooked, backed into me, and kicked my in the thigh.

As I lay on the floor, the rider explained to me, slightly unnecessarily, that the horse was scared of me.  Since then I've always exercised extreme caution around them!

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Bentrider | 4 years ago
3 likes

I saw a mounted policeman once with one of these..

 

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fixed to his stirrup.

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ktache | 4 years ago
1 like

I hadn't thought that horses needed lights, and they don't it's the riders apparently

Rule 51

At night. It is safer not to ride on the road at night or in poor visibility, but if you do, make sure you wear reflective clothing and your horse has reflective bands above the fetlock joints. A light which shows white to the front and red to the rear should be fitted, with a band, to the rider’s right arm and/or leg/riding boot. If you are leading a horse at night, carry a light in your right hand, showing white to the front and red to the rear, and wear reflective clothing on both you and your horse. It is strongly recommended that a fluorescent/reflective tail guard is also worn by your horse.

I don't think I have ever seen a horse rider with lights (apart from a mounted policeman outside of the Purple Turtle who had flashin LEDs on his heels) and I do encounter a lot of horses being riden on the bridleways and country roads near me.  They are big animals and the rider normally has a bit of HiViz on.  Probably caught out by the very variable darkness, clouds can change light levels loads towards dusk, clear skies can give you more mare than an extra hour of good light compared to the drizzly gloom we had yesterday evening.  Catches some cyclists out too.

I give them a lot of space, and pull over and stop if we are going in opposite dirctions and I turn off and flashing lights.  I always talk to the rider and horse.  We are all enjoying the countryside.

The other week a young lady walking a horse had it investigate me, good, maybe it won't be so terrified by the cyclist.  They can be worse than some dogs in not understanding the bicycle.  Though I was a bit scared when she led it away, I was a bit too close to it's rear legs for my liking.

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Samtheeagle | 4 years ago
0 likes

Re riding a horse without lights and for information only.  It is definately the case that Bridleways and (Restricted) Byways as Rights of Way are part of the Highways network. Further, verges and cycle routes (depending on boundary and designation) may well aslo be Highway.  As such the rules re lighting apply.

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Paul__M | 4 years ago
1 like

The video all makes good sense. Like dogs, the problem with horses is their extreme variability. Occasionally you come across one you doubt should be near a road. At the other extreme the police horses wouldn't be startled by even 1000 lumens. At least when you make yourself known from a distance you get to judge that in good time. It's also true they get used to bikes where they are frequent; at onetime the local forest bridleways were pretty awkward, but nowdays they don't bat an eyelid.

I did once get loudly berated for using a shared use path by a pedestrian.....in a horsey hat... but that's another story! Most of the riders I find very pleasant if you get things off on the right start.

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srchar | 4 years ago
6 likes

Many years ago, I got knocked off my bike by a car towing a horse box, the driver of which decided to pass me at the same time as we both arrived at a hard width restriction. The car cleared me (just), but the horsebox, which was wider than the car, collected me and I found myself sitting/clinging onto the double wheelarch of the horse box. It braked to walking pace to go through the width restriction, at which point I "dismounted", rather inelegantly, it has to be said.

The driver stopped and gave me his insurance details, although he didn't seem the least bit interested in my admittedly minor injuries, nor contrite. There was superficial damage to my bike, so I phoned up his insurer, who asked would five grand cover damage to the bike and my injuries? Needless to say, I bit their arm off.

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OldRidgeback | 4 years ago
4 likes

I saw what happened when a horse got spooked, threw its very young rider and ran into a bus once, long ago. The poor kid that had been riding was distraught and the bus driver wasn't much better. The horse was in a mess and had to be put down. It wasn't a pleasant sight. This was near where I lived and the horse was from the riding school up the road.

I'm always careful when driving or riding around horses. If I'm on my motorbike, I'll wait till I can pass with plenty of room and usually close the throttle, haul in the clutch and coast by.

Horse riders are generally ok, unless they're hunters which is an entirely different story (of arrogance and entitlement). 

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domats | 4 years ago
0 likes

Dear Horse Riders,

The rules of the road work both ways.  So when you decide to ride at night, especially in a place with zero street lighting and zero visibilty, please please ensure you at least wear a horse shoe lamp. Just using hi-viz jackets simply doesn't cut it in those situations.  I only ask because a couple of years ago, outside Leven, near Beverley,  I nearly rode into the back of a group of six riders who had no lights on at all and, as we know, hi-viz jackets are simply to highup for any light to catch.  They were riding on the grass verge so I couldn't even hear them.

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grumpyoldcyclist replied to domats | 4 years ago
4 likes
domats wrote:

Dear Horse Riders,

The rules of the road work both ways.  So when you decide to ride at night, especially in a place with zero street lighting and zero visibilty, please please ensure you at least wear a horse shoe lamp. Just using hi-viz jackets simply doesn't cut it in those situations.  I only ask because a couple of years ago, outside Leven, near Beverley,  I nearly rode into the back of a group of six riders who had no lights on at all and, as we know, hi-viz jackets are simply to highup for any light to catch.  They were riding on the grass verge so I couldn't even hear them.

Hang on, can I ask a question? You state they were riding on the grass verge, so why did they need to have lights on?

I'm confused.

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Pilot Pete replied to grumpyoldcyclist | 4 years ago
1 like
grumpyoldcyclist wrote:
domats wrote:

Dear Horse Riders,

The rules of the road work both ways.  So when you decide to ride at night, especially in a place with zero street lighting and zero visibilty, please please ensure you at least wear a horse shoe lamp. Just using hi-viz jackets simply doesn't cut it in those situations.  I only ask because a couple of years ago, outside Leven, near Beverley,  I nearly rode into the back of a group of six riders who had no lights on at all and, as we know, hi-viz jackets are simply to highup for any light to catch.  They were riding on the grass verge so I couldn't even hear them.

Hang on, can I ask a question? You state they were riding on the grass verge, so why did they need to have lights on?

I'm confused.

oh dear, he didn’t think that rant through before posting did he! Heaven forbid he was riding on the pavement/ verge....

PP

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domats replied to Pilot Pete | 4 years ago
1 like
Pilot Pete wrote:
grumpyoldcyclist wrote:
domats wrote:

Dear Horse Riders,

The rules of the road work both ways.  So when you decide to ride at night, especially in a place with zero street lighting and zero visibilty, please please ensure you at least wear a horse shoe lamp. Just using hi-viz jackets simply doesn't cut it in those situations.  I only ask because a couple of years ago, outside Leven, near Beverley,  I nearly rode into the back of a group of six riders who had no lights on at all and, as we know, hi-viz jackets are simply to highup for any light to catch.  They were riding on the grass verge so I couldn't even hear them.

Hang on, can I ask a question? You state they were riding on the grass verge, so why did they need to have lights on?

I'm confused.

oh dear, he didn’t think that rant through before posting did he! Heaven forbid he was riding on the pavement/ verge....

PP

 

Did I say I was riding on the road? No.  I was riding on a cycle path next to a busy main road which had no lighting and the horse riders were either side of it, not in single file but riding in a group, on the grass verge and onto the path.   Does horse riding give you the right to ignore other users and ride at night without any bloody lights whatsoever?

 

Let me also jump to a conculsion, judging by your assumptions in order to blame the cyclist for other people's errors, you must be one of those Audi drivers.

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brooksby replied to grumpyoldcyclist | 4 years ago
1 like
grumpyoldcyclist wrote:
domats wrote:

Dear Horse Riders,

The rules of the road work both ways.  So when you decide to ride at night, especially in a place with zero street lighting and zero visibilty, please please ensure you at least wear a horse shoe lamp. Just using hi-viz jackets simply doesn't cut it in those situations.  I only ask because a couple of years ago, outside Leven, near Beverley,  I nearly rode into the back of a group of six riders who had no lights on at all and, as we know, hi-viz jackets are simply to highup for any light to catch.  They were riding on the grass verge so I couldn't even hear them.

Hang on, can I ask a question? You state they were riding on the grass verge, so why did they need to have lights on?

I'm confused.

I suspect that "nearly rode into the back of them" is hyperbole.

But, they do have a point in that if we are supposed to give plenty of room when passing - even if they are riding on the verge rather than the carriageway - then it is a problem if we cannot see them at all until we are right on top of them (figuratively speaking)....?

(That said, I have never yet found it to be so very dark that I have failed to see a pedestrian or another cyclist (the horses round by me don't go out at night, as far as I can tell)).

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hawkinspeter | 4 years ago
13 likes

I don't think horses can see red, so they've got a good excuse.

What gets me is that there's loads of money spent on expensive racetracks and yet they ignore them and ride on the road instead.

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Miller | 4 years ago
7 likes

I would like to see a horse jumping a red light.

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rjfrussell | 4 years ago
6 likes

I wouldn't mind so much if the horsists paid road tax and stopped jumping red lights.

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misterbee | 4 years ago
4 likes

I have no problem being careful around horses, almost been taken out by one that bolted many years ago, its in my interst not to startle them.

Looking forward to the follow-up article telling horse riders how to drive when overtaking cyclists once they've got off their horse, I find horse box/trailer drivers are some of the worst on the road. I'm also frequently cut-up by drivers in 4x4 vehicles near the various stables locally.

Up here on Teesside there have been two fatal accidents in the last few months involving horse box/trailers neither with cyclists thankfully.

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bobbinogs | 5 years ago
3 likes

Nah. Some horses are so jittery it seems barmy to ride them on a public road and then berate anyone or anything encountered but many riders seem to take that stance. I once got caught up in the middle of a hunt...I was simply riding on the road when they joined it from a field and swarmed around me...fffing and blinding at me whilst I nearly shat my pants as I was surrounded by huge beasts high on adrenaline. Sure, some riders are fine and I always try to be considerate, shout out, cover lights, etc., but I often wonder how some horses/riders just deal with cars and motorbikes.

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don simon fbpe replied to bobbinogs | 5 years ago
5 likes
Bobbinogs wrote:

Nah. Some horses are so jittery it seems barmy to ride them on a public road and then berate anyone or anything encountered but many riders seem to take that stance. I once got caught up in the middle of a hunt...I was simply riding on the road when they joined it from a field and swarmed around me...fffing and blinding at me whilst I nearly shat my pants as I was surrounded by huge beasts high on adrenaline. Sure, some riders are fine and I always try to be considerate, shout out, cover lights, etc., but I often wonder how some horses/riders just deal with cars and motorbikes.

Hunts are different beasts, they do believe that they have the right to walk all over (pun intended) the proles. I don't think that they are representative of run of the mill riders and agree that not all horses nor horse riders have the skills to take them on the open roads, but like all people some are good, some are wankers. If they want respect, they have to earn it. And yes, I have had contact with the county set for almost all my life.

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Shades replied to don simon fbpe | 4 years ago
3 likes
don simon fbpe wrote:
Bobbinogs wrote:

Nah. Some horses are so jittery it seems barmy to ride them on a public road and then berate anyone or anything encountered but many riders seem to take that stance. I once got caught up in the middle of a hunt...I was simply riding on the road when they joined it from a field and swarmed around me...fffing and blinding at me whilst I nearly shat my pants as I was surrounded by huge beasts high on adrenaline. Sure, some riders are fine and I always try to be considerate, shout out, cover lights, etc., but I often wonder how some horses/riders just deal with cars and motorbikes.

Hunts are different beasts, they do believe that they have the right to walk all over (pun intended) the proles. I don't think that they are representative of run of the mill riders and agree that not all horses nor horse riders have the skills to take them on the open roads, but like all people some are good, some are wankers. If they want respect, they have to earn it. And yes, I have had contact with the county set for almost all my life.

I think hunts and saboteurs are welcome to each other.

The vast majority of riders are cheerful and courteous, although you get the odd icy stare feeling like your driving a Model T Ford threatening horses as a mode of transport.  Perhaps off-duty hunt riders!

The thing that bugs me in 'horse-land' is when they're not riding, they're thundering around the lanes in 4x4s (probably wishing they lived in a town or city where everything is close at hand).  [ditto] I've got a legion of country, horse mad relatives.

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Bungle73 replied to bobbinogs | 5 years ago
6 likes
Bobbinogs wrote:

Nah. Some horses are so jittery it seems barmy to ride them on a public road and then berate anyone or anything encountered but many riders seem to take that stance. I once got caught up in the middle of a hunt...I was simply riding on the road when they joined it from a field and swarmed around me...fffing and blinding at me whilst I nearly shat my pants as I was surrounded by huge beasts high on adrenaline. Sure, some riders are fine and I always try to be considerate, shout out, cover lights, etc., but I often wonder how some horses/riders just deal with cars and motorbikes.

If you talk to riders you'll find that in a lot of cases they have no choice but to take their horse on the road. And let's not forget, horse were there long before cycles, cars or anyone else.

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Morat | 5 years ago
7 likes

Of all the other road users, I find horse riders to be the most considerate.

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