Even if you're lucky enough to keep your horse in the heart of the countryside, the chances are that you'll still need to ride on the road at some point to get to where you want to go. As with any other road user, it's the responsibility of the horse rider to make sure that they understand the rules of the road, how to ride safely on the road, and how to make yourself visible to other road users and indicate your intentions clearly when turning or crossing.It goes without saying that in order to consider riding on the road in the first place, the rider should be a reasonably competent rider with a road safe mount. Different horses take to traffic in different ways and with fast moving vehicles and bright lights involved, understandably some horses can become easily spooked on the road. The novice rider should only ride on the road alone if they are confident in their ability to control their particular mount, which in its turn should be used to traffic and being ridden on the roads. Getting a newly broken horse or pony used to traffic, or dealing with horses prone to spooking or bolting on the road can be dangerous for both horse and rider, and best left to the experienced rider or trainer.
In order to get ready for riding on the road- whether for just a few minutes or extended periods- it's important to prepare yourself and your horse properly. You should always wear an appropriately certified riding hat, and keep it correctly fastened at all times. Children under the age of fourteen are required by law to wear a helmet when riding on the road.Consider how you can make yourself and your horse visible to other riders- a dark coloured horse and a rider in dark clothing can be hard to spot in low light. A reflective tabard for the rider and reflective attachments for various articles of tack are all easily available to buy, and highly recommended. If you will be riding on the roads in poor light, it is mandatory to use lights on your horse, just as you would need to on a car or bike. Small, lightweight battery operated road lights can be attached to either the stirrups on worn around the arm, and can make all the difference in whether or not other road users can see you in time to react safely.
When you want to turn, cross a road or move out of the flow of traffic, it is of course important to indicate your intentions to the other people using the road. Clear hand signals are important, and are your main way of communicating with other people on the road.
Use hand signals to show other road users that you wish to cross the road, move into the flow of traffic to pass a hazard, turn, or leave the flow of traffic. To turn left or right, extend your left or right arm respectively out from shoulder height with your palm flat for a few seconds, several yards before you actually intend to turn. Then check behind you for clear passage, assess for any hazards, and indicate again just before turning, while looking around and being aware of any changes in the situation on the road. Maintain your signal until your intention is clear and you have completed the manoeuvre. You should always stay to the left of the road, even when approaching a junction to turn right, until your path across the road is completely clear.
Using your right arm (the one nearest the traffic) extend your arm at shoulder height as if you were going to signal a right turn, and move your arm up and down slowly for a few seconds.
If you wish an oncoming vehicle to pass you rather than waiting for you to pass them, or to invite another road user to take right of way through a narrow piece of road or passing place, use your right arm with your palm cupped inwards to call them through, and make sure that they have enough room to pass you comfortably.
Not all drivers are used to driving around horses, and on occasion you may find that drivers will pass you too fast, not give you enough room, or even get frustrated by your holding up their journey. Revving the engine and beeping at a horse and rider are not only very rude and possibly dangerous, but also counterproductive as it can fluster the rider and spook the horse, but you must be prepared for this eventuality and confident in your ability to keep control of your mount. Getting into an argument with a thoughtless driver will not help the situation and may even exacerbate it. If you feel that another road user has endangered you either wilfully or by failing to follow the rules of the road, be prepared to take a note of their details to report them if possible, but do not do this at the cost of losing control of your mount or endangering your own safety.Fostering a good relationship with other road users is very important, and can make all the difference to how you are treated in turn by motorists. It is always polite to move over when possible to allow faster traffic to pass, but do not let the flow of traffic push you into the side of busy roads. You are entitled to use the road and have a reasonable amount of space to move freely in the same was as any other road user!Always thank a driver who slows down for you, passes you carefully, or makes a special effort to give you right of way and time to manoeuvre on the road. A simple nod and a smile can make all the difference to the way a driver will treat a horse and rider next time.Stay safe!