How to Share the Road Safely with Horseback Riders

Horses on Road

You may see them travelling alongside or on a road… graceful, finely tuned four-legged vehicles with a person mounted on top…  They may be travelling from one farm to another, en route to a trail, or the road itself might be part of an equestrian trail.

We’re talking about horses and horseback riders, which are fully entitled to use highways, just like cyclists, pedestrians and motorized vehicles. This is laid out in the BC Motor Vehicle Act (Part 3) Section 119 which states: ““traffic” includes pedestrians, ridden or herded animals, vehicles, cycles and other conveyances, either singly or together, while using a highway to travel.”

What’s extra important to know, is that sharing the road with horses is different than sharing the road with those other methods of transport.

Here is why:  as living beings, horses are sensitive to the unfamiliar and they can be unpredictable.

Horses can be easily startled by other traffic, and rear up, pivot, “wheel” around, or bolt away. Also, if they mis-step, they stumble to the side, a natural part of their movement.

Both scenarios can be highly hazardous to humans – those in or on a wheeled vehicle and those mounted on horseback – as well as the animal. Horses tip the scales at a hefty average of about 1,000 pounds (453 kilograms). That’s a lot of weight to collide with you and your vehicle, or to land on top of a rider (uggh!).  A crash could also injure the horse and require it to be put down.

Driver Tips

Here’s how you can share the road safely with equine forms of travel:

  1. Slow down long before you get close to horses and riders.
  2. Pass at a slower speed and give them a wider berth than you would a pedestrian or cyclist – at least one car width.
  3. Brake and accelerate gently, so you don’t make extra noise or spray gravel.
  4. Turn off your stereo and don’t honk or yell, so you don’t spook the horse.
  5. If you’re travelling with others by bicycle, scooter or motorcycle, ride quietly and approach single file. Horses are prey creatures and can panic if they see a “pack.”
  6. If you’re on a motorcycle, never rev your engine.
  7. Never throw things out of the window (because, hey that would also make you a litterbug!)
  8. If the horse is acting skittishly, then wait for the rider to get it under control or out of the way, before you pass.
  9. Once you’re past the horse and rider, accelerate gradually.

group of horses on road

If you ride horses and you’re travelling on a road, be aware that under the Motor Vehicle Act (Part 3), Section 120, “a person riding an animal or driving an animal driven vehicle on a highway has the rights and is subject to the duties of the driver of a vehicle.”

Rider Tips

Stay safe and be sure that:

  1. Your horse is ready and steady for riding on roads where there’s traffic.
  2. You and your horse are highly visible – you wear a reflective vest; your steed wears bright or high-visibility leg bands, tail guard, bridle straps or hindquarter rug.
  3. You obey all laws and signage.
  4. You avoid riding on roads in poor visibility such as darkness, dusk, dawn, fog, rain or snow.
  5. You stay calm at all times, so your horse knows that everything is a-okay.

single file on trail to road

Riders will find many other helpful tips and information about riding on roads, from the Horse Council BC.

Horses have an honoured place in the history of transportation, and as a mode of travel their needs and those of their riders must be respected. Let’s all trot, walk or drive to our destinations safely and smoothly.

Many thanks to the Horse Council BC, for generously sharing its advice and photos. The council is a membership-driven, not-for-profit association which represents the equine industry in agriculture, industry, sport, and recreation through education, grant funding, club support, lobbying, liability insurance and participant programs.

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20 Responses to How to Share the Road Safely with Horseback Riders

  1. Sherli Gagnon on August 12, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    what is the legal speed limit cars are supposed to drive at while passing horses on the road

    • tranbceditor on August 13, 2019 at 3:47 pm

      Hello Sherli – great question. The answer depends on the posted speed limit of the road. ICBC indicates in their Road Safe Drivers Manual that drivers must go slowly when approaching a horse and rider or horse and carriage, allow plenty of following distance and to pass slowly and widely. Each situation is different and it is the drivers responsibility to assess the best way to maneuver around the horse and rider. If you are on a road with a posted speed limit of 50, slow well below that speed. If you are approaching a corner and you don’t have a clear line of sight, slow down and wait until it is safe to pass. Remember that horses are allowed on roadways in BC and if you startle a horse and cause an accident, you could be liable. Here’s a link to the ICBC manual for more information: https://www.icbc.com/driver-licensing/Documents/drivers6.pdf

  2. Sue Adrain on June 18, 2019 at 10:11 am

    I’ve recently applied for horse crossing signage with the Ministry of Highways. We have property on either side of Highway 3 and there are three families that cross from one side to the other with their horses on a regular basis. The speed limit is 100 km and there is a blind corner that makes it particularly difficult for us to cross. The department (Kootenay Boundary) turned down our request as it says it does not install signage on main highways. Is this correct? This is a section that could sure use signage to warn people there may be horses on the highway.

    • tranbceditor on June 18, 2019 at 4:55 pm

      Hi Sue,

      Do you have the contact information for the department you connected with? Where exactly are you located?

  3. Veda Hanna on May 10, 2019 at 6:33 am

    We are a group of equestrians in North Saanich and require “share the road” with horses signage in several locations. How specifically do we acquire these signs and have them erected? Thanks

    • tranbceditor on May 10, 2019 at 9:29 am

      Hello Veda,

      Please connect with our Saanich area office staff. Here is their contact information:
      Saanich Area
      240 – 4460 Chatterton Way
      Victoria, BC V8X 5J2

      Hours of Operation:
      8:30 am to noon
      1 pm to 4:30 pm
      Monday to Friday
      250-952-4515

  4. Marlene Thoms on May 3, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    Yes, more driver education is needed as many don’t seem to realize horse riders have a right to use the roadway. I had an incident where a driver came around a blind corner at a high rate of speed, saw my horse startled and running, but continued to bear down at the same rate. It didn’t end well. My horse is fine with normal traffic passing at a normal rate of speed. Drive was not intentionally being dangerous, he had no idea, so I tried to educate him politely. Most drivers are very good, there’s just a few who aren’t helping the situation.

    • tranbceditor on May 3, 2019 at 6:42 pm

      Hi Marlene,

      Thanks for telling us about your unfortunate experience with your horse and a fast driver.

      We’ve worked with the Horse Council of BC and have improved our signs and their placement, to alert drivers to be extra cautious and courteous when passing horses and riders. We’ll continue to promote rider-horse safety through social media like this blog, Twitter and Facebook. Please feel free to share any of our materials with your networks, to help spread the word and educate drivers and riders.

      Today’s news release about the new signs: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2019TRAN0067-000852

      • Cathy Clarke on May 4, 2019 at 9:39 am

        Are there any new signs being made picturing horse and buggy or horse drawn farming equipment? This could be an issue on oil and gas iAds as well as provincially maintained routes.

        • tranbceditor on May 6, 2019 at 4:32 pm

          Hello Cathy,
          Thanks for your comment. We do have horse and buggy signs which were installed about 5 years ago in the 70 Mile House area.

  5. Nataschs Parsons on July 26, 2018 at 4:47 pm

    Is it normal for riders to ride 3 across an entire rural road. It was winter and I was slowed to a crawl almost got my vehicle stuck because they did not promptly move over.

    • tranbceditor on July 30, 2018 at 1:15 pm

      Hello Natascha and thanks for your message. We looked up the Horse Counsel of BC handbook for riders and found this:

      Ride single file and obey all traffic signs and signals – remember, your horse is legally considered a vehicle! Ride
      on the right hand side of the road (with traffic) and yield to pedestrians.

      As they are considered vehicles – the horse riders have the responsibility to ride single file. You are also required to slow down and even stop and give them wide berth when passing. Horses can spook easily and require extra care and attention, so your patience is appreciated. Here’s a link to more info on the rules of riding horses on the road: https://www.hcbc.ca/index.php/trailsrec/road-safety/

  6. Deb Rundle on July 13, 2016 at 10:30 pm

    Hi just want some advice for the ediquette of riders. I was stopped to a crawl today by two riders riding side by side on the road. I was coming up to a blind corner and did not want to risk passing them. They would not pull their horses to the side or ride single file to share the road. I had to fallow them slowly for half of a kilometer until it was safe for pass. Is this normal?

    • tranbceditor on July 15, 2016 at 4:59 pm

      Hi Deb,

      Thanks for your question about sharing the road with horseback riders.

      Without me having actually being where you were or knowing what the road shoulder would allow, it’s possible that the two riders may have chosen to stay side by side based on the conditions. With oncoming traffic, there might have been limited room for you to pass alongside them, and they may have been aware of the upcoming blind corner. As mentioned in the article, horses can be unpredictable, and having objects pass close by can startle them. They’re large powerful animals, that when scared, can reputedly move any direction in less than a second. Such a scenario could harm you, your vehicle, the riders and the horses. Similar to slow-moving farm equipment or a street sweeper in a city, which motorists can sometimes end up behind, there are times when it’s “Bear with us until we all get to a safer place.”

      Generally, conditions permitting, riders will yield the right of way to drivers when it’s safe to do so, and they appreciate drivers’ patience. (Under the Motor Vehicle Act, riders are not restricted to riding single file.)

  7. C Lennox on July 8, 2016 at 8:46 am

    Thank you for this!
    I know someone who was badly injured because a fleet of scooters came by in a pack making a lot of engine noise. Maybe add that if you are on a bike, motorcycle or scooter, to ride quietly and approach single file (horses are prey creatures and can panic at the site of a ‘pack’)

    • tranbceditor on July 8, 2016 at 11:57 am

      Thanks C Lennox for the helpful information, for those who are travelling by bicycle, motorcycle or scooter.

    • tranbceditor on August 16, 2016 at 11:34 am

      Hi C. Lennox,

      Thanks again for your excellent suggestions for bike, motorcycle and scooter riders who are sharing the road with horses. I have just added it to the blog.

  8. Sheila Watson on July 7, 2016 at 10:50 pm

    Perhaps some presentations in Jr. High and Teen’s Driver Ed would be helpful. It is a serious problem everywhere as more and more rural land is developed. I narrowly escaped a terrible accident last year while driving my horse along a quiet country road near Creston, BC. Two young people on dirt bikes roared up behind us and passed at excessive speed, never even looking back to see what they had done. My horse bolted and bucked for at least a mile before I got her under control. There were ditches on both sides of the road and no where to get off. It has ruined her as a driving horse after 12 years of fun, and I no longer drive horses.

  9. Bonny MacRae on July 7, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    Well done ad, but unfortunately it will not get the attention of the drivers that need most to see it.
    TV ad? Newspapers.
    The majority of drivers will either slow down or look to the rider for signals etcs..but it is the few that take it as a challenge to speed up, drive far too close to the horse, or yell as they go past.
    I ride in Langley, to Campbell Valley Park. Many of the roads around the park have little to no shoulder. The RCMP refer to Langley engineering, who refer back to the RCMP.
    As with everywhere, speeders and non attentive drivers are the problem. On 204th street, while driving, I am always passed on a solid yellow line.
    While walking my horse on 4th Avenue between 204th and 216th, cars are travelling well in excess of the 50 km speed limit, and there are burn out tire marks all along the road.

    • tranbceditor on July 7, 2016 at 3:18 pm

      Thanks for you comments Bonny. We have been in contact with the Horse Council BC on this blog, and I will share your concerns with them (providing only your first name and not your email). Recently the ministry used one of our overhead changeable message signs to ask drivers to watch for horses, when a group ride was scheduled on Hwy 20 to go the Williams Lake Stampede. We share your concerns about speeding and lack of attention on the road, as safety is our highest priority, and will continue communicate the safety message about horses and riders.

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