19 April 2017

Young driver tips: how to drive past horses on the road

With several driving-related headlines involving horses making the news over the last few weeks, we thought our young and newly-qualified driver customers would appreciate some more information, tips and advice to keep them, horse-riders and horses themselves safer out on the roads.

Evenings gradually getting lighter until June 21st and staying light for a good few months after that means that spring, summer and early autumn are times when horses are more likely to be ridden on UK roads, especially in rural areas.

Last week, the British Horse Society (BHS), which is the largest equine charity in the UK, launched a campaign called Dead Slow, aimed at improving road safety involving horses. Based in Crewe with plenty of countryside around us, we were surprised and saddened to learn that in the north west region alone, 62 road incidents have occurred in the last year resulting in the deaths of horses.

In 2010, the BHS introduced a website all about horse accidents and it’s shocking to discover that, since that time, 2,510 accidents have involved horses, with 222 horses dying at the scene or getting put to sleep shortly after, and 38 riders being killed.

Looking at horse-related road accidents over the past year, 81% of them happened because drivers didn’t allow enough room when they drove past, and 1 in 5 accidents actually involved cars colliding with horses. The British Horse Society has teamed up with the Department for Transport’s ‘THINK!’ campaign and produced an excellent video with helpful reminders on what to do if you see one or more horses being ridden up ahead:

During a BBC Breakfast feature discussing the safety issues, a rider called Laura explained how her horse, Angel, was killed in a crash last year when a Fiat 500 ran straight into them. The 26-year-old female driver who caused the accident and Angel’s death admitted driving without due care and attention. Laura and her friend were wearing fluorescent high visibility jackets, and it’s thought that the rural road’s 60mph speed limit was partly to blame. Laura herself still suffers lasting pain including back problems and post-traumatic stress, while the driver, Bryony, received five penalty points on her licence and a fine of £265.

In the video below, a horse-riding coach from Oxfordshire describes some horrible experiences she’s had while riding various horses on the road, including when an impatient minibus driver who didn’t want to save thirty seconds by driving more slowly ended up driving into the back of her pony. Imagining this kind of situation is enough to make drivers of all ages and experiences stop and think, we hope.

You’d think that driving instructors would be the least likely motorists to show road rage, but earlier this month a 12-year-old horse-rider called Callum and a 14-year-old called Megan had abuse hurled at them by an approved driving instructor who stopped his car and got out to shout at the pair. The instructor didn’t like horse manure getting stuck in his car’s tyres and objected to the young people riding their horses on the road, despite them being legally perfectly entitled to. The whole incident was caught on video, as Megan was wearing a hat cam. You can watch the unusual scenario here:

More and more riders wear head cameras these days because road incidents are becoming increasingly common, as experienced by Milly, 25, from Hampshire, who has recently suffered two cases of her horse being run off the road and ‘spooked’, both by 4×4 drivers. A horse owned by one of Milly’s friends also had to be destroyed after a similar scenario involving a four-wheel drive vehicle caused the horse to fall and break its leg, speed again being blamed.

Driving tips to minimise horses becoming spooked

Horses can be quite nervous animals when on the road, which isn’t surprising when you stop to think how fast some cars whiz past, and once a horse has become spooked, it’s very hard for the rider to calm them down and get them back under control again. So what can be done?

British Horse Society road safety driving advice


  • As soon as you see one or more horses being ridden on the road ahead, slow down to a maximum speed of 15mph
  • When you get nearer to the horse(s), steadily steer so that you create at least a car’s width of space between your vehicle and the horse
  • Drive past the horse and rider slowly
  • Don’t rev your vehicle’s engine, sound the horn, flash the lights, play loud music or brake suddenly
  • Only accelerate again when you are well past the horse and rider, building up speed again gradually

Of course, if you’re being tailgated or there’s another vehicle coming towards you on a narrow road potentially at quite a speed, things can get a little scary, which is why it’s always best to keep your speed down on rural roads and to pull over when it’s safe to do so, to let impatient vehicles past.

Even people who don’t particularly like animals can’t deny that horses are pretty beautiful, impressive creatures, deserving respect and patience – just like their riders, too. Sacrificing a tiny bit of your time can go a long way in keeping a horse and its rider calm and safe out there on the roads.

Thanks for taking the time to read this young/new driver safety advice blog on what to do if you encounter horses whilst driving. If you have any questions, comments, experiences or stories, come find us on Twitter or Facebook

Oliver Hammond

Written by Oliver Hammond

Oliver is an established freelance motoring writer, published journalist and automotive copywriter based in Manchester. He regularly reviews cars and covers events and launches as editor of petroleumvitae.com and his articles appear in various magazines each month. No relation to Richard from Top Gear, he’s got a weakness for luxo-barges, proper 4x4s and oddball cars.