As a driver, you’ve likely had to share the road with bicyclists from time to time, and maybe even wildlife like deer or moose. What to do around cyclists is straightforward enough: pass carefully when it’s safe to do so, leaving the other person as much room as possible. Wildlife is more erratic and should be given the right of way unless it jeopardizes the safety of you or other motorists. But what about horseback riders? Do you know the best way to keep everyone safe if you encounter a horse and rider on or near the road?
Horse and rider pairs should be given both the space and courtesy of cyclists, and the caution of wildlife on the road. Ideally, passing a horse and rider should go as smoothly as passing a cyclist. No matter how well trained, however, a horse is still an animal of prey, with a strong fight or flight instinct when frightened. What this means is that all horses startle easily, and if they detect a threat to their well-being – sometimes even if it’s just a bird flying out of the bushes beyond their immediate view – their behavior will become highly unpredictable and can potentially threaten the safety of the rider, driver, and passengers.
Approach the horse and rider slowly, and pass with as much space between you and the horse(s) as possible. Never slowly follow the pair if there is room to pass. Be mindful that the horse should continue walking as they were prior to your approach, and stop your car if the horse starts tossing its head aggressively, jumps in surprise, or attempts to take off – or if the rider signals you to slow down by moving their hand up and down. If any of these things happen, wait until the rider regains control, and resume passing carefully. If your vehicle is especially large or loud, use extra caution when passing. Never try to drive past a horse and rider as quickly as you can, and never honk or make noises at the pair, as these things are likely to frighten the horse and endanger everyone’s safety.
Remember that horseback riders have the same rights as drivers on the road. A little extra caution when passing our equestrian friends can go a long way in keeping all of us safe on our roadways.
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