FOR many people, taking horses on the road is difficult to avoid, whether it is riding, leading animals between fields or stables or to access somewhere to ride. During these periods, riders, handlers and horses are at an increased risk to traffic. When travelling on the public highway, it is the responsibility of the rider or handler to prepare for the situation and conform to legal requirements set out in The Highway Code (Introduction to the Highway Code | nidirect).
When riding on the public highway, riders under the age of 14 must wear a securely fastened helmet that complies with the current regulations. It is recommended that all riders and handlers follow this requirement. The Highway Code also states that riders should wear light coloured or fluorescent clothing when riding in daylight and reflective clothing if riding when there is poor daytime visibility or in the dark. Although not recommended, if riding on the road at night, the Highway Code also states that horses must wear reflective bands around their fetlock joints. A light showing white to the front and red to the back must be worn on either the rider’s right arm, leg or boot. The availability of fluorescent and reflective exercise sheets and tail guards on the market offers further ways that riders and handlers can increase their visibility to other road users.
The colour of fluorescent clothing is enhanced by natural light, making the wearer appear more visible. Fluorescent colours are particularly effective at dawn and dusk, when other colours are poorly visible, however, they are not suitable when artificial lights (street and car lights) are the only source of light. During hours of darkness, reflective clothing is effective in reflecting artificial light back to the viewer, making riders, handlers and horses more visible.
The majority of visibility clothing for riders and horses are a combination of fluorescent and reflective, making them suitable for a variety of situations. You can increase safety by wearing high-viz clothing even during the day, as it gives motorists enough time to see a horse and rider and act accordingly.
Statistics released by The British Horse Society (BHS) from 28/02/2019 to 29/02/2020 show road incidents involving horses and vehicles are continuing to rise, with 1,037 incidents reported to the equine charity over the past year. 81% of which occurred due to vehicles passing too closely and almost half of riders were subjected to road rage. This rise is likely a combination of increased traffic on the roads and reduced access to areas for off-road riding. It is the responsibility of the rider or handler to ensure they are familiar with The Highway Code regarding how to manoeuvre their horses at junctions and other road users and how to communicate effectively using standardised signals. Riders and handlers have no control over the actions of other road users and therefore need to ensure they are as prepared as possible for all situations. The British Horse Society (BHS) Ride Safe Award educates riders on how to reduce the risks associated with riding on the road and is available to riders 11 years and above.
BHS Ride Safe Award
Information on training and the Ride Safe Award can be obtained from the British Horse Society (The British Horse Society (BHS) | The UK’s Largest Equine Charity). It is essential that all riders are courteous to other road users by indicating their own intentions, so others know how to respond and by saying thank you to those who pass them appropriately and who respond to any requests made by the rider or handler.
Clear communication between all road users is essential to ensure the safety of all parties.
It is recommended to report all accidents and incidents involving horses to the local police to ensure that accurate records of high risk roads and areas are maintained. Incidents and accidents can also be recorded by riders and handlers at the BHS Horse Accidents website (Report Your Horse Incident | Riding Accidents | The BHS) or you can download the new BHS Incident Reporting APP. Incidents and accidents from all areas of the UK and Ireland can be recorded in a few minutes.
The information gathered is used to promote awareness of rider and driver road safety and lobby government for changes in legislation. It is believed that road incidents and accidents involving horses are under reported, making it difficult to gather representative data on the risks associated with riding on the roads and consequently make appropriate recommendations for change.
Access to the great outdoors has been more important than ever throughout the last year, so riding on or off the roads is becoming more popular and essential. Having the use of off-road areas to ride can be extremely useful. The BHS Ride Out Fund has provided funding for projects, which open and/ or enable safe off-road equestrian routes throughout the UK since 2015.
There are a number of off-road riding areas that can be accessed in Northern Ireland, including a new horse trail in a section of Gortin Glen Forest Park. Details of access to this trail and other areas can be found online.
Gortin Glen Forest Park – Fermanagh and Omagh District Council (fermanaghomagh.com)
Horse riding in forests – nidirect
Ulster Rural Riders Association – Forest, Beach and Country Park Rides (urra.org.uk)