An Open Letter

To the Riders Trotting Along That Busy Road in the Dark,

Apologies it’s taken me so long to address the situation which took my breath away on Tuesday 18th December, but in order for this letter to be free of expletives the steam had to stop coming out of my ears.

It was 7.45am, dark and dismal, and I was driving along a busy A road which links several villages to a large town. You know where you were, but I’m just filling in the picture for anybody else. It’s a 60mph limit, and a fast road. To my surprise, I could see a long line of car headlights coming towards me. Usually a queue of this proportion is caused by a tractor or cyclist. There was in excess of twenty cars. I spy a couple of floating yellow fluorescent shapes. I slam on my brakes as much as I can with cars behind me, and then see two horses and riders trotting along the road, the first one with their right arm out and closing in on the white line in the road, about to cross the road.

I’m an equestrian myself, so don’t feel that I’m pointing a finger because I’m a selfish townie. I just don’t understand why you felt the need to be riding along a fast road. In rush hour. In the dark.

We were days away from the shortest day, you’d almost made it to the day that all equestrians celebrate.

What was it that was so important you had to hack in the dark? I can take an educated guess that you were minutes away from home. Which means that you set off when it was even darker. I can’t even make your excuses that you’d gotten lost or it had got darker quicker than you thought on an afternoon’s hack.

We’re all in the same boat. We’re all fed up of the endless darkness, but really we’ve got three choices in winter:

  1. Organise our work, or use flexi-time to ride during the day.
  2. Hack at weekends, and use the ménage during the week to either lunge or school.
  3. Don’t like schooling? Either invest in some lessons so you learn to love it, pay someone to school your horse for you, or resign yourself to the fact your horse isn’t going to be exercised during the week.

However, hacking in the dark is dangerous. To you, your horse, and to other road users.

Let me just return to your attire. Hi-vis is very fashionable now, we all wear it – cyclists, joggers, horse riders alike. You had yours on. But it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t see your horses. Well I saw a flash of a stripe on their nose. What if you’d been separated from them? They could’ve been hit by a car! Secondly, I couldn’t see your right hand indicating. You can buy hi-vis gloves, light up whips, lots of gear which would mean drivers couldn’t mistake your use of arm signals.

Have you ever read the Highway Code? Or taken your Riding and Road Safety Test? When you are turning right you should continue to stay next to the kerb, not drift out towards the centre of the road. What if an impatient commuter had roared up the outside to overtake? Splat. That’s what.

I can understand that you were keen to get out of the way of the traffic and off road. But you can’t tell me the traffic caught you by surprise. It was 7.45am. The beginnings of rush hour. If you don’t want to be in that position, don’t hack out at that time of day. In daylight or darkness.

Really I think what angered me the most is that the equestrian world are striving to improve our rights on the road, and respect from other road users. The BHS has its Dead? Or Dead-Slow? campaign, we’ve made Hi-Vis more accessible, comfortable, and fashionable. We’ve reported swarms of ignorant cyclists, and British Cycling is now educating their members. We’re gaining respect, and making the roads safer. And then you come along and ride with total disregard to other road users, and with little regard to your own safety, and ultimately anger and upset the numerous commuters who had to follow you along that dark road. They’d be late to their destination. They’ll moan about “bloody horse riders causing traffic jams” to their colleagues. The next thing you know, hundreds of non-horsey road users have lost all respect and patience for us. And it takes a long time to regain that respect. They aren’t going to slow down for the next horse they see on the road. Which incidentally, is endangering another horse and rider who could be riding in the perfect visibility conditions, modelling so much hi-vis you can see them from outer space, and following the Highway Code to the letter.

You know who you are, please, please, please take a minute the next time you decide it’s a good idea to hack before sunrise on a winter’s morning. Spring and summer will return soon and you can do all the hacking you like then, but for now just leave your horse in their stable rather than put their lives at risk and upset every road user during rush hour. Please. For the rest of the equestrian world’s sake, don’t undo all our hard work at making the roads safer for us to use.

Merry Christmas!

Lycra-clad Monsters 

Right, I`m going to have a rant.

Whether cyclists choose to believe it or not, they are actually scary to horses. Yes, they are not large, rattling lorries, or buses with air brakes; but cyclists tend to be brightly clothed, whizz up silently behind horses and make them jump. As well as the sudden appearance of a cyclist or ten, horses are often mystified by the way people roll along with wriggling feet – not at all like our normal gait – and bikes make a clicking noise when free wheeling, as well as the flashing of the reflectors and the squeak of brakes, which can unsettle a horse.

So what has triggered my rant, I hear you speak.

Well Llani and I went for a hack today, in between light rain showers. After being hailed (with hailstones the size of golf balls) on halfway down the road we turned the first corner of the wiggly lane and were happily walking up the hill when a slushing noise came from behind. Llani turned to look behind, and we saw a lycra wearing cyclist, pedalling along. Now, Llani is not too keen on bikes (he was fine until a dozen sprinted past him, and now he keeps a wary eye on them) but he seems happier with cyclists if them talk as they pass him. It`s almost as though he begins to understand that they are human.

This cyclist was slowing down, but as he drew near I asked, “Could you please talk as you go past so that he understands you`re a person?” Unfortunately, I only got as far as “go past” when he interrupted me with “What do you expect me to do? I was only cycling along the lane. I didn`t even see you until I came round the corner … I have as much right to be on the road as you …”

He cycled past, gesticulating wildly, wobbling as he turned to rant at me. Well. I wasn`t having a go at him, in fact he was passing in a very sensible manner, I just wanted a little assistance in making the experience positive for my horse. If he`d have listened to me in the first place, and not become defensive he should have understood. As it was, his wobbling and shouting had actually helped Llani understand that the lycra-clad monster was just a human being using a very strange mode of transport.

Whilst cyclists have as much right to be on the road as us horse riders, they really should remember to slow down when approaching horses. If they are in a large group then it can be very intimidating so it can be a good idea to split into smaller groups. If approaching from behind the bell is very useful, as it alerts us riders to something behind us. In a similar way to when cycling along the canal it is good practice to alert pedestrians to you so they don`t fall in the canal in fright as you whizz past them (We recently took a Sunday walk along the canal …) Slowing down for horses, talking and perhaps remaining stationary so a nervous horse can pass, or wheeling the bike past a worried horse, can all help to prevent a horse becoming bike-shy and help road users work together so the roads are a safer place.

Bikes and Horses

Today I`ve rediscovered the joy of riding a bike.

One of the horses at the yard has started being cheeky when hacking alone so we decided to solve the problem by his owner and rider going out with only me and a bike for company. The horse is quite young but has hacked out alone before, however I think he was worried and the combination of rider nerves and horse nerves meant that they had to return home yesterday, after reaching the end of the road.

So I dug out an abandoned bike from the back of the barn, and followed the horse and rider out. It was interesting to see how the two interacted. When the horse spooked, he spun and tried to run, which caused his rider to lean forwards slightly and bring her hands back. As they started heading towards home they got into an argument and wound each other up.

My advice was when the horse spooked and tried to turn around, his rider should just make him stop. As a young horse he`s going to be unsure about things, but he needs to learn that he can`t run away from the monsters. Stopping also stopped his rider getting her knickers in a twist, and let her sort out her position and technique. Once the horse had calmed down, she asked him to walk on towards the monster with legs and voice. I  noted that when anxious, her horse chomped his bit, so she should wait until his mouth is still before proceeding.

The first couple of times I and my bike had to block the road to help prevent her horse running home. Once we`d established the routine of spook, spin, stop, reassure, re-approach, praise, the hack went without a problem. Once we`d been around the block once we went straight round again, and I was almost indispensible.

On Friday I`m going to follow this pair around the block again, but by giving them a good head start first so that they can prove to me that they can hack alone! Once they get going I think they will confidently go on any hack.

Seeing as I`d dug out the bike I decided a session at desensitising Llani was in order. Whilst he stood in his stable I cycled up and down the barn until Llani stopped shooting to the back of his stable. Despite being wary, he was intrigued by the bike, so I took it over to him to sniff it. Llani wasn`t bothered by bikes until some whooshed up behind him on a hack just before Christmas and since then he`s a nervous wreck around cyclists.

Anyway, I brought Llani out of his stable and wheeled the bike carefully around him, showing it to him, resting it on his shoulder, and bringing it up from behind, as would happen on the road. He soon got used to this so I put it away and worked him. After he was rugged up and ready to go out, I produced the bike again. He just watched carefully, as I wheeled it towards him and then I proceeded to walk to the field with Llani on one side and the bike on the other. He walked happily enough, just very conscious of the bike and just before we got to the field I climbed astride it and pedalled slowly, leading him. I hope that he learns not to worry about me hopping off and on a bike, and just accept it.

At the field, Llani turned and watched me fascinated, as I closed the gate and cycled away. For the next few days I`m going to cycle to the field every morning so that the horses get used to the bike, and then when Llani is completely confident around it with me I`ll hack him out with a friend on a bike so she can replicate cyclists on the road, and then hopefully we`ll crack Llani`s phobia!