Bridleways are in short supply throughout the country and many riders are forced to use roads, either for all their hacking or to make links between bridleways.
Unfortunately there are only about three million riders and more than 26 million motor vehicles – many driven by people who are not riders, who forgot the Highway Code on passing their driving test and who may think that horses have no right to be on the road!
Most drivers have no experience of horses and will not realise they are unpredictable and can react violently to innocent items of sounds. Wen you take your horse on the road, he is trusting you to keep safe.
Aside from making sure both you and your horse are legally and financially covered should the worst happen. You owe it to him to do all you can to ride safely and encourage drivers to be horse-friendly.
‘Be seen, be safe’ is a message that’s frequently presented to riders as a key piece of riding advice – but amazinginly often, many of us ignore it. Traditionally, equestrians have been soberley-clad people but with today’s dangerous roads, riders should overcome a reference for sludge green or navy blue and consider the ease with which a driver can see them.
Coming across a rider in dark clothes, even on a grey horse, it’s no wonder a driver has little chance to slow down. In the same situation, a fluorescent vest or even a white t-shirt would give that driver vital time to cut his speed. A vehicle shooting by is not surprising if you have camouflaged yourself against the hedge. A fluorescent hat cover alone can help by making you visible above cars or hedges.
High visibility clothing shouldn’t just be kept for riding in poor light. Even in the summer months, the contrast between bright sunlight and shade may mean a driver cannot see a horse under the trees. If you want to be invisible while you’re riding off-road, then at least wear a fluorescent vest on the road and stuff it in your pocket on bridleways, or have a reversible bright/sober-coloured jacket. But don’t forget it can be to your advantage to be easily-seen off-road too, for example if there are shooting parties, machinery, cyclists or dog walkers.
Next time you dress for hacking, think twice and wear a brightly-coloured top – that fuchsia pink t-shirt hidden at the back of the wardrobe or those crazy coloured leggings you bought after a few wines would be ideal!
Chase your council
Roadside verges would be a refuge for riders if only they could be used. Many are so overgrown that hazards are invisible, or they are littered with road signs which push the rider onto the carriageway. ‘Gardened’ verges which householders abuse or guard with stones are another robbery of riders’ safety.
The Highways Act 1980 Section 71 says there should be adequate margins for riders where the authority considers it desirable for safety. There are eight reported horse-related accidents 3 day and provision for horses gets less.What is your council doing to improve equestrian safety? Are its verges horse-friendly? Write to the chairman of the highways committee with your case for better verges.
Time to campaign
An accident is a bad experience, even if you and your horse are both unhurt. The last thing you may be thinking of is using such an incident to improve conditions for all riders, but the reaction of highway authorities increases proportionately to the severity of the accident, so try using an injury to demand the council improves safety.
The British Horse Society compiles statistics on horse related accidents which are invaluable in its campaign for safer roads. You don’t have to be a member to report an accident, but joining the Society would give it greater power to campaign for you.
The police record accidents involving horses using a specific form called STATS 19 if a human is injured. The statistics can be used to improve provision for horses so every rider in an accident on the road where someone is injured should report it. If you do not, you could be charged with failing to report an accident.
Many accidents are due to careless drivers but the law says you have a right to be on the road and drivers have a duty of care towards you. In the stress of the moment, don’t forget an accident with a horse is no different to any other – you must think of legal or financial repercussions and protect yourself from later allegations.
You can also educate any drivers you meet, perhaps at work or within businesses near you. Many companies are aware of the loss of staff time through road accidents and provide driver awareness training.You could offer to give a demonstration at their premises to improve awareness of the needs of horses on the road. Also, the BHS produces a striking poster and video which you could use. If you have an incident where a commercial vehicle has been driven recklessly, it is worth contacting the company.
Jane Wright had a horrifying experience. Lorries from a quarry close to her yard are common on local roads but usually their drivers slow down for the many horses in the area and give them a wide berth. On this occasion, Jane was hacking through a village when a lorry approached from behind. She could hear it coming and listened for the noise to change as the lorry braked. But it didn’t.
Knowing the driver must be able to see her, she suddenly realised he wasn’t going to slow down and she needed to get out of the way fast. Fortunately she was able to swing her horse onto a lawn just in time for the lorry to go belting past. Trying to calm her terrified horse, and feeling very shaken, Jane managed to note the registration number. Seriously disturbed by the near miss, she wrote to the quarry company and quickly received the reply that they were investigating this very serious incident.
As a result, the driver was given a written warning and driver awareness training, while Jane received formal apologies from both the company and the driver. This was far more than she expected and she was glad she had made the effort otherwise next time that driver met a horse, it might not have been a near miss.
Kirsty Magson’s 15-year-old daughter had a hideous accident recently while hacking with a friend, when one of the horses was badly injured by a van. The incident was devastating, made worse by the fact that Kirsty had to push hard – to Chief Constable level in her bid for justice.The case was eventually abandoned because the driver found a ‘witness’ prepared to say he was not at fault. Aghast, Kirsty realised how critical it is to note witnesses at the accident and get statements as quickly as possible. Later may be too late.
The trauma of an accident, perhaps with your horse suffering may make this seem impossible but Kirsty is sure now that she would be prepared and able to insist that the police interview witnesses immediately, or at the least get someone to note registration numbers for her. A prosecution for careless driving and full costs could have been successful but now even the insurance company involved has a counter-claim that the girls were not in control. Kirsty’s message is that immediate action counts so be prepared.