Two people riding their horses on a country lane

Driving around horses on the road

4 minutes

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At some point you’re likely to encounter a horse on the road while driving, especially on country roads. Here are a few tips to help keep everyone safe.

  • What you should do when approaching a horse on the road in a car
  • What does the Highway Code suggest?
  • Important things to remember when driving around horses

Did you know that there are over 840,000 horses in the UK and more than 370,000 horse owning households? It’s hardly surprising then that you’ll often come across horses and riders on the roads, usually as they make their way to a local bridleway.

Tragically, figures from the British Horse Society show that 2,943 road accidents involving horses were reported in 2021. In these accidents, 66 horses died and 126 people were injured.

Responsible riders will wear high-visibility clothing when they’re on the roads, only ride during daylight hours and, whenever possible, avoid busier routes.

However, as a driver it’s still important to take extra care – especially when driving around bends – so that you can see horses and their riders in plenty of time and take appropriate action.

Take care and drive slowly when approaching horses on the road

Whenever you’re approaching a horse:

  • Slow down - As soon as you see a horse on the road ahead, lower your speed. The British Horse Society recommends a maximum speed of 10mph
  • Give them plenty of space - Pass the horse wide and slow, allowing at least a car's width if possible and it’s safe to do so. 
  • Be prepared to make an emergency stop - Horses are unpredictable. Be ready to bring your vehicle to a complete halt in a safe and controlled manner.
  • Drive slowly away - Avoid accelerating away too quickly once you’ve passed the horse. The noise and sudden movement could cause a fright.
  • Respond to the rider’s instructions - If they feel you’re going too fast or need you to stop, then they may give you a hand signal. When asking you to slow down, they’ll usually hold out their right arm and slowly wave it up and down.
  • Don’t sound your horn or rev your engine - Sudden noise could scare the horse and cause it to behave erratically.

Highway Code advice on driving near horses

Horses are unpredictable animals and can be easily scared. The Highway Code states that when passing horses you should always treat them as a potential hazard.

Rule 215 of the Highway Code urges motorists to take particular care when overtaking horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles. It points out that horse riders are often children and that riders may be riding in double file when they’re accompanying an inexperienced rider.

It advises drivers to keep their speed down on narrow country roads and on bends. If a road is blocked by a horse or other animal, it recommends bringing your car to a complete stop, switching off the engine and waiting until they have left the road.

As a driver, it’s important to take extra care – especially when driving around bends – so you can see horses and their riders in plenty of time and take appropriate action.

Things to remember

Motorists and motorcyclists gradually move to the centre of the road when turning right. However, horse riders are advised to keep left until they reach the shortest route to execute a right turn. 

Most riders will avoid using roundabouts. If they do, they will stay to the left and only signal left when they’re nearing the exit they want to take. When they pass exits they’re not using they’ll signal right to let you know they’re not leaving the roundabout. 

As well as hand signals, riders are advised to let drivers know they have seen you by making eye contact. Often they will acknowledge your considerate driving with a wave, but sometimes they will have to keep both hands on the reins.

Follow these simple guidelines whenever you encounter horses on the road and you’ll be doing your bit to keep yourself, the horse and its rider safe.

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