Hold your horses! How to pass horses safely on the road

Featured in:
July 2021

Horses are powerful animals and have extremely heightened senses. They are also ‘flight’ animals so if they become scared, they will revert back to their natural instinct.

The British Horse Society has reported that nearly two horses are killed each week on UK roads. In the last year alone, 87 horses and four people have been tragically killed.

If you’re approaching a horse from behind:
• Slow down and hold back. The rider will indicate whether it’s safe to approach and overtake. If they don’t, make sure you stay at least three car lengths behind and be careful to not move into this space. Be prepared to slow down further or even stop to protect yourself and the horse and rider. Avoid any sudden movements and loud noises such as revving the engine and playing your music loudly.

• Most riders, and occasionally their horses will be in hi-vis so you should see them and able to slow down in good time. Remember in the countryside they could be around any corner.

• When passing the horse and rider make sure you give plenty of space. We recommend at least a car’s width and ensure it’s done slowly. Remember to always pass “slow and wide” stick to 15mph or under. Take a look at this video online explaining it from the British Horse Society: www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJfZM41oUOE

• If you’re on a country road and there’s not much room to manoeuvre around the horse, the rider may decide to trot towards the nearest layby or grass verge. Do not speed up to match their trot, stay back and allow the rider to get to safety before overtaking.

• Often when you see two riders it is for safety reasons. This could be an inexperienced rider or nervous animal being coached along by a more experienced companion. Give them some consideration.

• Keep an eye out for the rider. They will often give you signals asking to slow down, stop or to overtake. They will acknowledge you and assist you to pass, but their main priority is keeping themselves and the horse safe, so they’ll be trying to keep their hands on the reins at all times.

• Always accelerate gently to pass the horse and when moving away. Both rider and horse may both be inexperienced and nervous in traffic; do your bit to keep them safe.

• If there are grass verges, many riders will take the option to move themselves up onto them and allow you to pass. Please continue to pass slowly as the noise of your engine can still spook the horse.

If a horse is approaching on the other side of the road:
• Slow down completely and consider putting on your hazard warning lights for anyone that may be behind you. You may need to stop to allow the horse to pass you safely if it is safe to do so.

Horse rider and IAM RoadSmart’s digital content executive Jaimi McIlravey said: “Please continue to be careful when driving close to horses. From personal experience, it’s not always a car that will spook a horse. You may be driving safely with enough gap between yourself and a horse and rider, however, something else may scare them, so be sure to stay alert.”

If you see any incidents involving a horse and rider please contact the police with any information you have. You can also report an incident online at: https://www.bhs.org.uk/our-work/safety/report-an-incident

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