What to do when you meet a horse on your bike! (ask for it back)
As cyclists we often get a bad rep from other road users, but I don’t think this is a unique dynamic, there are plenty of cyclists, motorists, pedestrians, horse riders speaking ill of other cyclists, motorists, pedestrians, horse riders!
The reality is we are all people and road users who want to get home safely at the end of the day. In this blog I wanted to touch upon one specific relationship between two groups of road users, that of the cyclist and horse & rider.
As someone who grew up on a farm in rural Kent, passing a horse & rider on my bike was a regular occurrence. I was also lucky to grew up with horses, which I appreciate isn’t the norm for most cyclist, so I thought I would look to share my experience to help explain how as a cyclist we can help keep the horse & rider safe and which in turn will then help them keep cyclists safe too.
It is important to know that horses can be easily frightened and this should always be taken into consideration when passing them on the road. The speed at which cyclists can pass, the number of cyclists that are passing, sudden reflection from highly polished equipment or a plastic bag flapping in the hedge can all cause problems for some horses, especially those who are young or inexperienced. Yup – a plastic bag in a hedge can be the most frightening thing in the world to some horses!!!!
So here are our 8 tips with dealing with horses when out on a ride....
The most important thing is to make the rider aware of your presence. If approaching from behind, horses have a very large blind spot and won’t see you until you’re practically level with their heads. It’s vital therefore to let the riders know you’re there with a clear “good morning” or similar. Don’t shout overly loudly but don’t be too tentative either. A horse is far less likely to be spooked by the sound of your voice than by being suddenly surprised by you appearing next to them. Wait until they’ve acknowledged your presence and follow any instructions they may give you for passing. The horse might be young and inexperienced, highly strung (think race-horse who doesn’t want to get in the starting gates) and prone to being startled or just not having a good day! Letting the rider know you are there gives them the time to manage their horse to keep them in control. A bit like riding clinchers or disc brakes in the wet……your braking is very different given which one you are riding!
Whether approaching horses from behind or head on, slow right down and be prepared to stop. This applies whether you’re out for a training ride, taking part in an event or on track for a STRAVA segment KOM/QOM. Allow plenty of time and distance for the horse and rider to become aware of your presence.
Avoid unexpected noises
Don’t shift gears or brake hard when approaching horses as these sort of mechanical noises can easily spook them, and like other animals (including humans) this noise can cause them to lash/kick out as a self-defence mechanism. The same can be said for the air-brakes on HGV’s, these can sound like a snakes’ hiss and horses don’t like snakes!
Most horses being ridden on the road are used to passing traffic so, as long as you give them plenty of room and pass to the right as you normally would, they’ll be fine. Allow room in case they are surprised or startled, this is as much for your safety as it is for the horse and rider. If there isn’t space to pass safely, wait until a suitable opportunity arises, just as you’d hope a car would do the same for you.
The more warning a horse rider has of you approaching, the better. Make sure you are visible and have suitable lights fitted to your bike, be aware if you have flashing front lights these can scare horses.
Keep an eye out for signs that there may be horses around. Fresh dung, bridleways that cross the road and nearby stables are all fairly clear indicators. Look out for horses being ridden two abreast as this can indicate a younger or nervous horse. Some riders will also wear tabards indicating a young or nervous horse or if they’re an inexperienced rider.
Large groups of cyclists can be especially alarming for horses so, if you’re out on a club run or taking part in an event with other riders, be especially aware of this. Follow all the advice above, communicate through the group that you’re slowing down and split into groups of four or five riders to pass. The horse riders may be able to find a safe place, stop and let you pass as one group but you have to allow them the time to do this.
It can be frustrating to have to slow down but always be polite and pleasant (yes this does go both ways). We are all sharing the roads so we need to work with each other and respect other road users. Don’t take offence if a horse rider doesn’t appear to acknowledge your consideration, they are probably concentrating on controlling their horse.
The simple fact is if you’re cycling on rural roads and lanes (so that’s most of us on a ride-out!), you are likely to encounter horses. Follow this advice to ensure that both you and the horse riders can continue with a safe and enjoyable ride. At the end of the day we all want to have safe and enjoyable ride-out, irrespective of the mode of transport we’ve chosen!
I hope these insights and tips help the next time you come across a rider & horse on your future rides.