Many horse riders complain that most car drivers and motorcyclists fall into three main categories:
• Those who pass them leaving plenty of space but do so at high speed
• Those who pass slowly but too closely
• Those who don’t pass at all, preferring to drive inches from the horse’s tail until the rider pulls onto the verge and waves them past.
Given that there are over 3,000 accidents involving horses recorded every year, they might have a point.
Tips for driving in the countryside
Here’s our guide to how to overtake horses and other animals safely.
Give them space
Rule 163 of the Highway Code says drivers must: “Give vulnerable road users at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car,” and rule 162 says that: “Before overtaking you should make sure the road is sufficiently clear ahead, road users are not beginning to overtake you, and there is a suitable gap in front of the road user you plan to overtake.”
So, it’s the Overtaking Triangle we covered in a previous article; essentially, we treat horses and other animals in exactly the same way as we would a car or other slow-moving road user, with two important caveats: noise and speed.
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What do I need to do differently?
Horses can be flighty and easily spooked, so you need to pass them slowly and quietly, giving them plenty of space.
After all, regardless of the danger you’re putting the rider and horse under, no one wants a couple of tonnes of horse hitting their car, do they?
So, if you’re coming up behind a horse you need to wait at a respectful distance until you have good visibility and can see the road ahead is clear. Only then indicate and pull onto the opposite carriageway, passing them slowly and at low revs.
Only return to your side of the road when you are well past the horse and rider.
If the horse is on the opposite side of the road, you should still slow to a walking pace and drive past them without revving the engine or making any unnecessary noise.
What does the Highway Code say?
In addition to the two general pieces of overtaking advice we’ve looked at above, Highway Code Rule 215 says:
“Be particularly careful of horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles especially when overtaking. Always pass wide and slowly. Horse riders are often children, so take extra care and remember riders may ride in double file when escorting a young or inexperienced horse or rider. Look out for horse riders’ and horse drivers’ signals and heed a request to slow down or stop. Take great care and treat all horses as a potential hazard.”
Did you know that you can be penalised for driving inconsiderately?
Why they might be riding side by side
Riding two-abreast stops car drivers trying to force their way past when there isn’t enough space to pass them safely, helping keep them secure in the face of impatient drivers.
Or, it could be because one of the riders is a novice or riding a young, inexperienced horse and it’s safer for them to be on the inside with a more experienced horse and rider on the outside.
In either case, they might be taking up more of the road but given you should be on the opposite carriageway when you do overtake, it’s not actually making a difference, is it?
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Horses and roundabouts
It’s unusual to see a horse on a roundabout but if you do you will need to take account of the fact that most riders will stick to the left-hand lane all the way to their exit, rather than moving into the middle of the road when turning right as a car would.
This means it’s best to stay right back until the horse rider has completed their manoeuvre and exited the roundabout.
Overtaking a horse and cart
Overtaking a horse-drawn cart or carriage follows the same general principle, although you will to take account of the extra length of the combination.
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Overtaking other animals
In remote, rural areas it’s not unusual to have to overtake a flock of sheep or a herd of cows on the move. The principles are the same but whenever possible I’d pull into the side of the road and let the whole lot move off under their own steam.
Farmers tend not to move them long distances on the road, so it might be faster and safer for you to wait for them to move rather than try and force yourself past them. And anyway, there’s probably a lovely view to enjoy.
It’s common to see sheep grazing at the side of the road and if you stopped for each one to make sure they aren’t going to step out in front of you it would take an eternity to get past them all.
The trick here is to pass them more slowly than you would normally drive, being vigilant to their body language: a sheep with its head down is probably happily grazing and has no intention of wandering off anywhere. A sheep with its head up, though, is looking around for more tasty morsels or a place of safety; these are the easily spooked sheep that could cause you a problem.
It’s not an infallible rule, of course, but it’s a good guide. See, now you’re a sheep whisperer…
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Overtaking on a solid white lines
What about being stuck behind a horse and rider when a solid white line prohibits overtaking?
Well, a solid white line generally means that you cannot cross or straddle it unless you are entering a premises or a side road. However, Highway Code rule 129 allows you to “cross the line if necessary, provided the road is clear, to pass a stationary vehicle, or overtake a pedal cycle, horse or road maintenance vehicle, if they are travelling at 10mph (16km/h) or less.”
So if you come across a horse and rider trotting along you can overtake, as long as you’re careful and it’s safe to do so.
Just because you’re riding a pedal bike doesn’t mean you’re not going to spook the horses either.
While you might not be making as much noise as a car or motorbike, you’re still going to pass them in a blur of speed if you don’t slow down - and the personal risk is likely to be much higher than it would be if you were safely cocooned in a car.
So try and let the rider know you’re there with a discreet cough or a ‘hello’ before passing them as quietly as you can at a brisk walking speed.