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 modes 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 — it’s a natural part of their movement.

Both scenarios can be highly hazardous to humans – those in or on wheeled vehicles 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 like 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.

Page 1 of 31 comments on “How to Share the Road Safely with Horseback Riders”

Leave a Reply to tranbceditor Cancel reply

  1. 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?

    • 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.)

  2. 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’)

    • 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    • 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.