There are around three million horse riders in Great Britain, many of whom ride on the road and although they prefer not to do so, riders often have no choice because they need to reach to bridleways and other off-road facilities.
Horse riders have a right to use the road, and both riders and motorists are responsible for each other's safety. Horses are powerful animals that are easily frightened and can panic, especially near fast-moving traffic or at sudden loud noises.
How many road incidents involving horses happen each year?
The British Horse Society (BHS) collate data each year on the number of incidents on the road involving horses and cars. In 2022, 3,552 road incidents were reported to the BHS. This included:
You can report an incident to BHS on the BHS website.
In 2020, a study exploring the factors associated with collisions and horse fatalities found that:
Drivers passing too closely was reported in 84.2 per cent of incidents
Road rage and speeding were reported in 40.3 per cent and 40.1 per cent of incidents
56.9 per cent of incidents were reported in the spring and summer months, with 54.9 per cent of incidents reported to have occurred between the hours of 10am and 2pm
The South West, South East and West Midlands were the regions of the UK with the highest numbers of reported incidents
The median age of the handler involved in the incident was 40 years of age, with 88.8 per cent of handlers being female
Most horses involved in the incidents were not injured, but 18.6 per cent were mildly or moderately injured and 3.2 per cent died (or had to be euthanised due to their injuries)
Collisions were more likely when close passing occurred (or in combination with speeding) than when speeding alone occurred, but where speeding occurred, the incident was more likely to result in a horse fatality
Collision risk was reduced by 80 per cent when high visibility clothing was worn.
How can I ride my horse safely on the road?
Before taking a horse onto the road, ensure that you can control the horse, and that the saddle and other equipment fits well and is in good condition. Horses that are inexperienced in riding on the road, or are nervous of traffic, should be ridden by experienced riders and be accompanied by other, less nervous horses. RoSPA also recommends that:
You follow the Highway Code and obey all road signs, road markings and traffic lights
Riding two abreast can be useful, especially if one of the riders or horses is inexperienced, but you should return to single file where the road narrows and when approaching bends
You should not carry passengers, or anything that might affect your balance or become tangled in the reins. You should keep both hands on the reins, except when signalling, and both feet in the stirrups
Where possible, you should avoid busy, high-speed roads and difficult junctions, such as roundabouts
You are courteous to other road users and thank motorists who have slowed down for you
Young, inexperienced riders should always be accompanied by adult, experienced riders when riding on or near the road.
Should I take horse rider training?
RoSPA recommends that all riders should undertake road safety training, if possible before riding on the road.
What road safety training is available for horse riders?
The BHS operates the Ride Safe award, which is designed to help riders develop confidence and to ride in all the most common environments, keeping themselves and their horse safe. Further details of the award can be found on the BHS website.
Can I find advice on riding my horse safely in the Highway Code?
In 2022, the Highway Code was updated to help keep horses and horse riders safer on roads. This includes advice to pass the horses (including feral or semi feral horses, found in areas such as the New Forest, Exmoor and Dartmoor) wide and slow; giving them at least two metres of space.
RoSPA advises that all horse riders read the Highway Code, especially rules 47 to 58 which provide advice on using horses on the road. These rules can be found in the online version of the Highway Code.
What should I do as a motorists if I see horses or horse riders on a road?
It is vital to be patient, slow down and pass horses slowly and with plenty of room (at least two metres). Never sound your horn or rev your engine near horses.
Be aware that when turning right, riders will not move to the centre of the road but stay on the left until they reach the point where they intend to turn. You should also be aware that horse riders behave differently from other traffic at roundabouts. Riders will not normally signal on approach but will stay on the left within the roundabout until they reach their exit, and then signal left. They may signal right when approaching and passing exits they do not intend to take.
More advice for motorists is available on the BHS website.
Do I need to wear a helmet when riding a horse?
The law only requires children under the age of 14 to wear helmets when riding on the road. However, it is strongly recommended that all riders of horses, or other equine animals, on the road wear a helmet.
RoSPA recommends that horse riders wear a helmet specifically designed for horse riding (rather than a pedal cycle helmet, for instance) and that meets one of these standards:
PAS 015 Equestrian Helmets
ASTM F1163 Standard Specification for Protective Headgear Used in Horse Sports and Horseback Riding
SNELL E2001 Helmet Standard for Use in Horseback Riding
All horse rider helmets sold in the UK must also have a CE mark. If possible, in addition to the CE mark and one of the above standards, choose a helmet that also has a BSI Kitemark, which provides an extra level of quality assurance.
Should I wear high-visibility clothing when riding a horse?
RoSPA recommends that all riders wear high visibility (fluorescent and reflective) garments when riding on the road. Fluorescent and reflective ankle bands and stirrup lights are particularly effective in attracting the attention of motorists.
If possible, wear high visibility garments that conform to BS EN1150 or EN1150, a European Standard for high visibility garments for non-professional use. Garments that are being used professionally should conform to BS EN471.
The Highway Code (Rule 51) advises riders that it is safer not to ride on the road at night or in poor visibility. Riders who must use the road in these conditions should ensure that the horse has reflective bands above the fetlock joints and carry a light, which shows white to the front and red to the rear. These items should be certified to EN 13356.