The recent Cycling Scotland advert, told drivers to treat a cyclist like a horse. That’s all well and good, and makes for a rather funny video, but how should cyclists treat horses and horse riders?
Jessica Drake, a member of Horses and Road Safety Awareness, wanted to share with me a few of her tips as a horse rider of how we cyclists should behave. As I didn’t know most of these, I thought it would be useful to share on London Cyclist.
Horses are sensitive to their surroundings by smell, sound, feel and vision; they detect movement under foot and have good hearing but although they can see perfectly well, the blind spot of a horse is HUGE and if you are in the blind spot, the horse won’t see you.
Think about how you would get a shock if someone passed you at speed on the street when you didn’t hear them coming. Now think about how a horse would react, whose natural instinct is to flee. They will often tell us that something is ahead before we can see it ourselves. It is usually the case of surprise that makes horse and rider jump, the recognised term is ‘spook’. A horse can spook at a pigeon flying out of a tree or cows behind a hedge. Sometimes it can be something they have walked past many times before.
As riders we do our best to stay safe on the roads and it is relatively easy to control your horse when a noisy motorbike comes along or we can see or hear a tractor approaching, we collect our horse and calmly control until the vehicle has passed safely, or we signal for them to slow down while we find a safe place to pull off the road and allow them to pass.
Cyclists however, are silent (especially the ones who maintain their bikes) who creep up from behind!
The blind spot of the horse is much bigger than most people realise and a horse can’t see you until you are practically level with its head. By which time, it may well spook and jump sideways, bolt forwards or it may even spin around so it can get a better look at the silent monster behind.
The best practice for cyslists is this
As you approach a horse, please let us know you are there by either ringing a bell or just shouting “MORNING” or “BIKE BEHIND” anything (nice!) that will alert us that you are there.
Don’t worry about shouting a warning, horses can cope with this far better than you appearing out of thin air!
We can take measures to alert our horse you are there and we recommend you take a wide berth, making sure it is safe to overtake. If cycle races are being held on country roads, ask the organisers to put notices out a couple of days before so that riders can avoid riding on that day or on that route. There is nothing more terrifying than a group of 20-30 cyclists whizzing past, horses can kick out when frightened and can pack a mighty punch.
If you are taking part in a cycling event, your concern will be to get by as quickly as possible, but please pass slowly. A speeding cyclist coming out of the blue may startle some horses and a group of speeding cyclists is even more likely to do so!
Please take great care and if it is obvious you need to stop, then please do so; it may save a serious incident. Also please heed a rider request to slow down or stop if the need arises. It may be that the horse is young or nervous. Equestrians may be attempting to get out of your way into a safe place in order to let you pass – help them to do so by adjusting your speed and keeping a safe distance from them.
Most horse riders appreciate it when drivers/cyclists make an obvious effort to pass wide and slow and will thank them or nod/wave. I know that I do! So on behalf of all horse riders – THANK YOU! And thanks also to HRSA (Horses and Road Safety Awareness) for helping me write this article. They are a small group which aims to educate drivers, cyclists, walkers and riders on how to use the road in a safe and courteous manner.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.