Ellen Shipton
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Date Published:18 Jun 2020 Last Updated:11 Apr 2021

Riding safely on the roads: horse riding laws

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If you have any equine law related queries, please do not hesitate to contact us or read more on our specialist Equine Law.

Following on from the updated government guidance (read more in our previous blog) horse riders are slowly but surely getting back to life riding on the roads as normal. With the increased “hoof fall” on the roads, it seems like a good time to remind ourselves of the ‘dos and don’ts’ of safely horse riding on the roads.

The Highway Code and horse-riding law

The Highway Code has specific sections dedicated to horse riders. For the purpose of this blog, I will outline the main rules and regulations that surround safely riding your horse on the road, on top of how to approach horses that are being ridden on the road .

  • Safety equipment- a helmet which complies with the current regulations must be worn and fastened securely;
  • Your other clothing should include:
    • Boots/shoes with hard soles and a heel;
    • Light coloured/fluorescent clothing in daylight; and
    • Reflective clothing at night or in poor visibility.
  • You should limit horse riding at night or in poor visibility although sometimes this is impossible for a variety of reasons. If you are riding in poor visibility, ensure that you wear reflective clothing and that your horse has reflective bands. Other recommendations include using things like lights and tail guards.
  • Before taking a horse on the road, you must:
    • Ensure all tack fits well and is in good condition; and
    • Make sure you have control of the horse you are riding.
  • Before turning or riding off, give clear arm signals. When riding on the roads, you should:
    • Keep to the left;
    • Keep both hands on the reins (unless signalling);
    • Keep both feet in the stirrups;
    • Not carry another person; and
    • Never ride more than two abreast and ride in single file on narrow busy roads and round bends.
  • You must not take a horse onto a footpath, pavement or cycle track.
  • You should avoid roundabouts.

Now the difficulty with a number of these is that they are easier said than done. Your horse might be controllable in a normal situation, but they are, after all, animals, and if something scares them they can very quickly become stressed, anxious, and at worst, completely uncontrollable. In addition, your tack may fit very well and be in good condition at the time of departure, but something unpredictable could cause your reins to snap mid-ride, for example.

Tips & advice for riding your horse safely on the roads

Given the current circumstances, it may be that your horse has not been hacked out in a while which, as we know, can cause a squirrel to turn into a monster in the mind of even the calmest horse. If your horse has not been out for a while, you should consider walking your horse in hand first and ensuring that your horse is calm and relaxed before trying to ride on the roads.

When you do venture out “on board”, the British Horse Society has published guidance with extra tips on how to stay safe on the roads, but here’s my list of a few top tips for hacking out below:

  • Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back. There is a good phone app called “Equilab” which enables you to share your ride with others so that they know when you are back safe or where you are if something does happen;
  • Carry a mobile phone with you so that you can call someone if necessary;
  • Limit your riding in poor visibility;
  • Consider the time of the day – is it rush hour? Will people be more likely to be in a rush? If you’re riding your horse at the weekend, consider whether there will be lots of traffic on the roads or not (this also depends on where you live);
  • Try to stick to quiet routes, especially at the moment;
  • Try to listen out for vehicles and keep an eye out;
  • Have an ID tag on your saddle;
  • Consider going out with a lead rope “just in case”; and
  • Acknowledge careful drivers with a thank you, a hand raise (if you can take your hand away) or even a nod/smile.

This advice is also dependent upon your local area and will differ based on whether you are near a national park or you have to do a lot of road work and riding on fields/country lanes. If you’re local to the New Forest, for example, consider the ponies and what they are up to. Often their behaviour is unpredictable, however, bear in mind that the stallions are loose at certain times of the year (May- June normally). In addition, consider the sheep being set loose and the pigs at different times of the year.

Driving past a horse

If you are driving past a horse, please remember to pass wide and slow. Horses are unpredictable and although a horse may appear calm, their attitude can completely change by the time you get to pass them. If you would not push past a pedestrian, or a cyclist, you definitely should not be pushing past a horse.

Cycling past a horse

If you are out cycling and enjoying the countryside, please take care when approaching horses and riders. There is not always a need for you to slow down as a cyclist however I would advise that you signal your approach to the horse rider so that they know you are coming and then give the horse enough room when cycling past.

More often than not, horse riders (and their horses!) do not hear a cyclist approaching, especially when the cyclist is travelling at speed, and therefore it makes sense to let the rider know to avoid any issues. A simple “hello” or “I am behind you” is sufficient and will allow the rider to make the horse aware of the cyclist. This is particularly helpful if the horse is spooky or young.

If a cyclist passes the horse close and at speed, and the horse has not heard it, the horse is likely to spook potentially causing injury to the cyclist and/ or other road users.

Please also take care when cycling in groups. A large group of cyclists whizzing past a horse is likely to cause the horse to spook and therefore, in these situations, as a cyclist you would be best advised to warn of your approach, slow down and leave sufficient room in case the horse spooks and spins round.

Need advice on equine law or riding your horse on the roads?

If you have any equine related issues, whether road related or not, please get in touch with our specialist Equine Law department by contacting us at equine@ellisjones.co.uk or by calling 01202 057732.

Our Equine Law team specialise in a number of varying equine disputes including: