Firstly, I will apologise now. For this is going to be a rant, but please continue to read and share, so that we can hope some non-horsey road users will read it and begin to understand the plight of horse riders on the road.
I do a lot of hacking. Today alone, I went on four hacks. On a weekly basis I spend about ten hours a week hacking. I don`t hack on the roads by choice; I am either using the roads because of vet recommendations, or in order to access the bridleways. The majority of the time hacking is a very pleasurable way to earn a living, but then other times it`s just awful. Many people I meet, in cars on or foot, smile and wave. Perhaps we exchange words on how lovely the day is. However, in the last week alone I have met several idiotic drivers who have almost caused me and the horses I have been riding to come to some serious harm.
They were lucky.
I was lucky.
Let me tell you about some of them. Yes, they are biased as they are from my point of view, but I don`t think many non-horsey drivers know how a horse rider is perceiving a situation, so it is important to improve their understanding so that they can make better judgements in future.
Last Thursday my friend and I were riding along a country lane; quite a wide, straight bit of road, when we met a man with a shotgun. He was walking towards us on our side of the road, so we moved out into the middle as we approached because there were no cars coming and it`s only courteous not to force 3/4 ton of horse too close to a strangers feet. The horses were wary of his gun, but he was very friendly and admired them both. We paused momentarily so I could ask him if he had finished shooting (I had others to ride out so wanted to avoid his party) when a car came out of nowhere and undertook us – driving between the horses and this nice gentleman. There was hardly room to breathe! I`m not sure who was more stunned, the horses or the man. Could that car not have slowed down, or waited for us to tuck ourselves in to the hedge, which we were about to do?
The following day I was hacking a mare around the village. On physio`s orders, we were in walk on the roads. As I came down a hill I could hear the sound of a mower in one of the oncoming gardens. Knowing this mare, I knew that she would not walk close to that garden with a funny noise behind the hedge, so after checking that the coast was clear I moved out towards the middle of the road. I didn’t want her to jump right into the road, and being a bit further away from the noisy monster I could ride her straight and felt better in control. I also wanted to discourage cars from passing me because I didn`t want to risk her jumping sideways onto the car. A car did come up behind me, as we were level with the noisy garden. But he overtook anyway, passing inches away from my right stirrup iron. Thankfully, she didn’t react, but it could have been so dangerous. Part of learning to drive is learning to read the road; if you see a horse positioned in the middle of the road the rider usually has good reason to be there, so take a moment, slow down and wait until they are safely out of the way.
An hour later. Well, less than that as it was the beginning of my next hack, I was crossing the main road with a friend. It`s a fast road, but straight so it has good visibility, and we have to ride about 50 yards along it before going up one of the lanes. However, a construction company have put up a little white sign, which all the horses peer around, checking for monsters. The horse I was on started to edge sideways around the sign, so I stopped before he edged too far into the road because a car was approaching. My friend`s horse was more reactive and started dancing sideways, additionally upset by the rapidly approaching 4×4. The car didn’t slow down until it had to in order to avoid my friend`s horse`s hindquarters, which were crossing the white line, despite her best efforts. My friend had signalled frantically to the female driver to slow down, which had been ignored, and when my friend asked her to wait a moment, the only response she got was a rude gesture as the woman sped off. What on earth could she have been in such a hurry to get to that she didn`t have time to slow down? Approaching more slowly wouldn’t have panicked the horse more, and would have meant that my friend could have kept him still while the car passed, and then when the road was clear we could skirt around the sign.
Thankfully I had the weekend off from hacking, but on Tuesday I was back at it once the fog had lifted. This time I was on a fizzy ex-racer, walking along the road when a teenager came into sight on their moped. I signalled them to slow down, but to no avail. They pop-popped past us at around 30mph, causing my horse to panic, spin and try to bolt with me – not fun! The act of slowing down, not changing gear as they passed me, would have made this situation so much safer. As well as respecting my hand signals.
An hour later, along the same stretch of road, a pick up raced up behind, slowed down marginally, and then it and it`s metal trailer rattled past us. Thankfully this horse just stood as the calves inside the trailer rolled around, bellowing loudly. The worst part here, was that even though the pick up was passing me FAR too fast, they still had the cheek to wave their hand at me. No – don’t have the arrogance to wave to me when you are going so fast I have to keep two hands on the reins and focus on controlling a potential explosion because you have terrified my horse! Think about the vehicle you are driving and if it may cause a problem because it rattles, or smells, or is a funny shape.
Today`s incident though, really takes the biscuit. I was crossing the road this morning. Again, a fairly fast road, but quite straight and I had good visibility. Two cars passed me while I waited on the verge, and then all was quiet so I started crossing. Suddenly a car came around the bend, very fast. And I mean fast. At least 60mph. Which is a bit silly anyway because he was approaching a double junction and an uphill bend. I waved at him to slow down as I was over the centre line, hurrying towards the woods. I didn’t want that racing past in this horse`s blindspot once I`d gotten off the road. To my horror, the car actually started to get faster. Yes, he was ACCELERATING TOWARDS ME! I kept waving my hand whilst kicking frantically for my horse to hurry up and get out of the way. As he passed me, he swore violently at me.
Absolutely horrendous behaviour. I was horrified. Scared. It`s the sort of inconsiderate, rude, dangerous, I would expect of … well I wouldn`t expect it from anyone. Slowing down when he first saw me would have meant I would have gotten out of his way in plenty of time and he wouldn’t have needed to slow down that much. Perhaps he would have been a minute late to whatever life-changing event he was racing to. But I highly doubt a minute would have been the difference between life or death.
I think some of the other motorists I`ve seen over the last week have been ignorant, but today`s man was a jerk. A first degree jerk. He didn`t care. I felt he actually would have hit us, he wouldn’t have tried to avoid an accident.
But perhaps that is what motorists are after. For there to be a severe accident; for a horse to lose it`s life; for a rider to sacrifice themselves? I don’t know. But for those un -horsey, imagine you are walking along a country lane. Now imagine the feeling as a car roars past you at 60mph. Then again at 50mph. And 40. And 30. Even 20.
Now imagine that you are sat on a prey animal. One with a natural instinct to flee. Now do you have some idea, an inkling, of how we feel as you roar past; too fast and too close. This is why the British Horse Society is constantly campaigning for drivers to pass horse riders at 15 miles per hour – Dead, or Dead Slow? – it is not because we feel it is our right to have everyone bow to our needs. It is because we have the right to have respect, as road users, on the highway. It is a safety point, someone could be seriously injured if you scare the horse by driving dangerously. It doesn`t have to be the horse or horse rider, it could be another vehicle, or a walker, or anyone unlucky enough to be in the vicinity. Furthermore, you can be prosecuted by the police, be fined and receive points on your license.
Like I said at the beginning, horse riders don’t want to spend time on the roads, it is a necessity to access the off road tracks and trails, so please take a moment to stand in our shoes, and think about how we might be feeling as you screech past us on your way to your oh-so-important destination, not caring if we or the horse are physically or mentally damaged.