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Caution horses - how to improve safety on the road


The majority of traffic accidents involving horses happen on minor roads and in rural areas

The majority of traffic accidents involving horses happen on minor roads and in rural areas

The majority of traffic accidents involving horses happen on minor roads and in rural areas

Last year, the British Horse Society (BHS) released some startling figures in relation to road accidents involving horses. It was a wake-up call for everyone, including Irish riders and drivers, some of whom sadly lack basic knowledge when it comes to the hazards of horse riding on public roads.

According to the BHS, which also oversees one of two of the riding and road safety courses here in Ireland, in the five years from 2010 to 2015 there were 2,000 reported road incidents in the UK involving horses.

Of these, 36 caused rider deaths, and 181 resulted in a horse dying from their injuries or being put to sleep.

In the majority of accidents, the horses were hit from behind.

Three quarters of those ­accidents happened because the vehicle passed the horse without allowing enough space, while over a quarter of ­respondents said that they also had to deal with driver road rage during the incident.

The majority of these episodes happened on a minor road and in a rural area, and nearly half of the horses involved were used to riding on the roads more than once a week.

It makes for grim reading, considering a large percentage of horse owners in Ireland rely on public roads for daily exercise, rehabilitation, training of racehorses, and so on.

Unlike the UK, we do not have the facility of bridle paths - and this is seen as a major disadvantage to the Irish equestrian community.

According to BHS Riding & Road Safety Chief Examiner Anne O'Connor, it all comes down to respect and knowledge from both riders and drivers.

"What drivers do not realise is that horses and riders have every right to be on our roads," she said. "This is backed up in the publication of the Horse Road Safety Booklet, which is readily available on the Road Safety Authority website.

"It is their duty of care that drivers give wide berths when passing out and that they drive slowly.

"So many drivers do not actually understand that horses are flight animals.

"They also do not realise the damage a horse can do if it is struck by a vehicle - not only to the vehicle itself, but also the occupants."


Ms O'Connor noted that while some drivers will, by nature, get annoyed by the very fact that horses and riders can slow them down on their journey, aggression is not a solution.

In some cases, it will only make an already tense situation worse.

Also, just because there is a certain speed limit on the road when encountering a horse, that does not mean that the driver can continue on at that speed without showing due care for the rider and animal.

The recommended speed when passing horses and riders is 25km/h (15mph). Drivers should also be familiar with stopping distances on all road surfaces.

In 2015, Ms O'Connor worked closely with the RSA and Horse Sport Ireland to produce the booklet to promote safety, good driving practice and courtesy when using our roads according to the law.

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"The booklet contains a huge amount of information for riders and other road users, and it is vital that they have a clear understanding of the Rules of the Road."

As well as wearing reflective clothing and being familiar with the appropriate hand signals, riders should also display common sense.

"With the evenings starting to get longer, more and more riders will be taking to the roads, so it is crucial that ­everyone works together for a safer road," Ms O'Connor concluded.

Horses and road safety: the dos and don'ts


* Always tell someone where you intend to go and when you will return.

* Always check that your tack is in good repair and fits your horse correctly.

* Always check that your horse's shoes are in a safe condition to go on the road.

* Always plan to ride safe routes. Keep away from busy roads if possible.

* Always wear a riding hat or helmet that meets current safety standards. Make sure it fits correctly and fasten the chin strap at all times.

* Always make sure that drivers can see you at all times regardless of weather conditions. Wear high-visibility clothing and put high-­visibility equipment on your horse.

* Always position yourself between the horse being led and the traffic so that you have maximum control over the horse while leading, or riding and leading.

* Always show courtesy to other road users. A smile and a nod are enough if it is safer to keep your hands on the reins.

* Always give clear and accurate hand signals to let other road users know your intentions.

* Always remain alert, attentive and observant. Remember the 'lifesaver look' at junctions - it could save your life.


* Never ride in rush-hour traffic.

* Never ride in fading light or darkness.

* Never ride in dangerous weather conditions.

* Never ride on unsafe roads or roads prone to ice in cold weather.

* Never use a mobile phone or music player that may distract your attention or affect your control of your horse.

* Never bring a novice horse on the road unless it has the company of an experienced horse.

* Never bring a child or novice rider on the road unless they are mounted on an experienced horse and in the company of an ­experienced rider.

* Never take a large group of riders on the road without a safety plan. Divide into smaller groups. Each group should have an ­experienced leader at the front and back. Leave a space between groups for a vehicle to pass safely.

* Never allow a horse to break away from the group. Always cross a road as one unit. Never block traffic unnecessarily.

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