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.
Sharing the Road with Horses is Different
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.
Here’s how you can share the road safely with equine forms of travel:
- Slow down long before you get close to horses and riders.
- Pass at a slower speed and give them a wider berth than you would a pedestrian or cyclist – at least one car width.
- Brake and accelerate gently, so you don’t make extra noise or spray gravel.
- Turn off your stereo and don’t honk or yell, so you don’t spook the horse.
- 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.”
- Cyclists and joggers should speak up , so the horse recognizes them as a person, not a predator. (Cyclists hunched over handlebars can resemble a cougar or wolf).
- If you’re on a motorcycle, never rev your engine.
- Never throw things out of the window (because, hey that would also make you a litterbug!)
- If the horse is acting skittishly, then wait for the rider to get it under control or out of the way, before you pass.
- Once you’re past the horse and rider, accelerate gradually.
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.”
Stay safe and be sure that:
- Your horse is ready and steady for riding on roads where there’s traffic.
- 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.
- You obey all laws and signage.
- You avoid riding on roads in poor visibility like darkness, dusk, dawn, fog, rain or snow.
- You stay calm at all times, so your horse knows that everything is a-okay.
Riders will find many other helpful tips and information about riding on roads, from the Horse Council BC, including their in-depth Road Safety Handbook for Equestrians.
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.