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Horse riding accidents: Is it still safe to ride a horse on the road?

Carl Waring

Carl Waring

|  16th March 2021  |


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The numbers of road traffic accidents involving horse riders have decreased by 3% in the last year. However, with traffic volumes set to rise and worries that motorists are driving faster than ever, what are the prospects for ensuring that the numbers of horse-riding accidents do not start to rise again? Is it the case that it just isn’t going to be safe to ride a horse on the road anymore?

According to a recent Horse & Hound magazine article, the year 2020/2021 saw slightly fewer horse riding accidents on the road reported than in the previous year. With 1,010 reported incidents of horse riding accidents, this represented a 3% decrease in the figure from the year before. The number of horses that died in road accidents also halved.

That’s all good then. Or is it?

Well, considering that the year in focus saw Britain locked down in an attempt to control the spread of Covid19, with a subsequent reduction in the number of motor vehicles on the roads, maybe a 3% reduction in horse riding road accidents isn’t all that grand, after all. It was interesting to note that embedded in the Horse and Hound article referred to was a ‘quick survey’ which asked readers:

“Do you think the roads are becoming safer for riders?”

The latest polling showed that 74% of readers believe that the correct answer is:

“No, they are getting worse.”

Increasing traffic volumes and faster speeds – a recipe for danger for horse riders on the road

With the country gearing itself up to ease Covid19 lockdown restrictions,  traffic volumes may soon be back up to pre-pandemic levels again. Only recently, BBC Wales online reported that traffic on Welsh roads had risen by 62% compared with the first six weeks of restrictions in March 2020. There is also a feeling that traffic numbers could increase back up to and beyond pre-Covid levels. The thought is that fewer people will want to travel on public transport because of the continuing risk of catching Covid on crowded trains, buses and tubes.

All of this could be bad news for horse riders who ride on the public highway. It isn’t just the traffic volume that gives horse riders cause to be concerned about becoming involved in equestrian road accidents.  Another worrying trend has emerged from lockdown, namely the number of motorists who think it is acceptable to speed.

The RAC reported that almost half the people they questioned for research purposes said they had witnessed an increase in the number of drivers breaking the speed limit during the pandemic lockdown.

Are we getting to the stage where it will become too dangerous to ride a horse on the road?

Most horse riders would prefer not to have to ride on the road. Many of them only do so as a means of accessing off road routes. However, others have little option but to use the highways regularly.

Why shouldn’t they be on the road anyway?  The Highway Code Horse classifies horse riders as vulnerable road users in the same way that pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are. Rule 215 of the Code advises motorists explicitly that they should;

  1. Pass wide and slowly
  2. Take extra care of children who are riding
  3. Be aware that riders may ride in double file when escorting a young or inexperienced rider or horse
  4. Look out for horse riders signals
  5. Take heed of a request to slow down or stop.

In other words, horse riders have the same right to be on the road as cyclists, pedestrians, and motorcyclists.

The horse riding accident statistics of 2020/2020 drill down into more detail. As well as there being 1,010 road traffic accidents involving horse riders:

  • 46 horses died, and 118 were injured
  • 130 riders suffered personal injury
  • 45% of riders were victims of road rage
  • 80% of incidents occurred because vehicles passed too close to the horse
  • 43% of incidents were the result of motor vehicles passing too closely

Incidents of horse riding accident injuries caused by road traffic accidents are under-reported. Hence, the reason why the BHS urges all horse riders to report any incident in which they are involved.

A near miss for a horse rider can end up becoming something far more serious

The constant danger for all types of vulnerable road user is of drivers passing them too closely. Too close to a pedestrian, cyclist, or motorcyclist is dangerous because of the potential accident’s ‘nearly’ nature. In the case of a horse and rider, ‘too closely ‘can actually result in a road traffic accident!

By their very nature, horses are ‘flight’ animals. When they get frightened, they try to flee. If a motor vehicle comes too close to them or makes a loud noise such as that when a car revs up excessively or backfires, then the animals’ instinct kicks in, and it flees. However, this can lead to it running into the path of another vehicle. Alternatively, it’s sudden decision to move off at speed can have the effect of unseating its rider.

Serious injury or worse to either horse, rider or both is a distinct possibility. Equally, another road user could suffer personal injury because of the actions of the horse.

Serious injuries from horse riding accidents

It probably says something about the character and resilience of horse riders’ that they are not seriously injured more often than they tend to be after being thrown from a horse.

Nevertheless, coming off a horse onto a hard road surface is fraught with the risk of the rider suffering:

  1. Head injuries
  2. Spinal injuries
  3. Broken bones
  4. Severe facial injury
  5. A fatal accident

Cut the speed and keep a safe distance

The key to fewer accidents involving horse riders, their horses and motor vehicles is quite simple. Drivers need to cut their speed and keep a safer distance when in the vicinity of accompanied horses on the road.

Equally, there is a duty of the person in control of the horse to play their part. Showing courtesy to drivers, making clear and decisive hand signals to indicate their intention and ensuring that they are highly visible to other road users is how horse riders can do their best to stay safe.

If all road users play their part, then there is still a chance that fears of increased numbers of accidents involving horse riders will turn out to be misplaced. That we all hope will be the case!

If you are injured in a horse-riding accident and want to know whether you can make a personal injury claim, call Mooneerams on 029 2048 3615 for a confidential chat. We are expert personal injury solicitors and can help you to make a successful horse riding accident claim. Call us now or contact us online and leave your details. We’ll call you back.

We can usually offer the benefit of no win, no fee agreements to clients who wish to make horse riding accident claims.

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