Britain’s three million horse riders have a right to use the road alongside motor vehicles, but statistics show it is becoming increasingly dangerous – despite a range of schemes designed to educate drivers.
Riders often have no choice but to use a road in order to reach bridleways and off-road facilities; but as roads get busier the number of accidents is growing. So, it is more important than ever to learn how to stay safe.
The British Horse Society (BHS) says the number of incidents involving cars and horses is increasing year on year, with nearly two horses killed each week.
In fact, 3,737 road incidents were reported to the society between November 2010 and March 2019 in which 315 horses and 43 humans died. 
Of those incidents, 73 per cent were caused by cars passing too close to horses – and 31 per cent involved vehicles travelling too fast.
Road rage and abuse is also a regular occurrence for riders, with 32 per cent saying they had experienced it.
What’s the current advice on what to wear?
Ensuring that riders are visible is the first step in ensuring that riders are as safe as possible on the roads. The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) has produced a report Conspicuity of Horses and Riders on the Road after being commissioned by the BHS to undertake evidence-based research on what riders should wear to help protect themselves.
They made two major recommendations concerning what to wear:
- Riders and horses should use LED lights, ideally in a pattern highlighting the width of the horse and rider.
- Riders should use bright and reflective safety clothing where possible (preferably a colour which contrasts with the environment in which they are riding).
There are numerous high visibility products on the market including helmet covers, tabards, arm bands, and jackets. Horses can also be fitted with high visibility equipment such as an exercise sheet and leg bands.
In recent years advances in technology have meant that riders have more access to tools that can help in an emergency and riders should use these to their advantage:
- It is essential that riders can contact someone in the event of an emergency so they should ensure that they have a phone on them that has sufficient charge for the duration of their ride.
- Hat cameras with a record function can be effective in slowing traffic if drivers can see that you are recording your surroundings. Video evidence can also be invaluable if an accident occurs due to dangerous driving or a rider suffers verbal abuse.
Consider downloading apps that can help you in an emergency. For example the ‘What Three Words’ app provides a unique three word code for every 3 meter square area in the world and allows emergency services to find you even if you are in an extremely remote area.
Training and learning
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accident, ROSPA, provides advice for riders on how to stay safe on the road, and has produced a factsheet.  It recommends that all riders attend a road safety course organised by the British Horse Society - and take its Ride Safe Award course. Children should also be encouraged to learn about road safety and The Pony Club run Road Safety courses for members.
Horse riders are also advised to read the Highway Code, especially rules 49 to 58 which provide advice on using horses on the road.
Rule 51, for instance, advises that it is safer to avoid riding on the road at night or in poor visibility. Reflective bands should be fitted to the horse’s fetlock joints and riders should carry a light (which shows white to the front and red to the rear) if they need to ride in the dark.
Other key measures to stay safe include:
- Ride with a partner if you can – but not more than two abreast.
- Always leave a gap of at least a horse’s length between horses being ridden together in single file.
- Do everything possible to avoid hazards and constantly look out and listen for anything which could alarm a horse. Take a detour to avoid hazards if necessary.
- Keep to the left of the road and approach junctions with caution. Before turning, check traffic and make a clear signal.
- Ensure someone knows where you are going and how long you expect to be out.
- Ride on familiar routes, if you are trying a new route, consider driving or walking the route first to assess suitability.
- Having maximised your safety when riding on the road, also ensure you are covered for third party liability: accidents can and do happen.