After reading an awful, truly heartbreaking story about how a horse called Ruby was killed in a road accident recently, I’ve been thinking about how completely avoidable the whole situation was. I know that there are campaigns to provide more bridleways, which I fully support, but surely it shouldn’t be necessary for horse riders to vacate the roads for their own safety? There is absolutely no excuse for road users to drive recklessly and endanger others, simply because they aren’t patient enough to wait for a few moments until they can pass safely. But why does this happen in the first place? Is it lack of understanding? Or is it pure disregard from people who don’t think horses should be on the road in the first place?
I have been on the receiving end of some abuse personally whilst out riding – one person shouted at his neighbour; “Here’s another one of those bloody road users who don’t pay their tax!” Charming. Where do I start with that one? 1) Horses were here long before cars and roads were 2) I pay plenty enough tax on my other vehicles particularly on my 4x4 which I use for towing 3) cyclists and horse riders are tax exempt because they do not cause damage to the roads, and their relative usage compared with a car is absolutely minimal 4) how thoroughly narrow minded 5) do you know what we do pay tax on though? Farrier bills, vet bills, livery costs, feeds, equipment – the list is endless! HMRC certainly have their fair share of our earnings. And don’t even get me started on being told to clean up after my horse...yes, hold on a second, I’ll carry a wheelbarrow with me at all times, along with a shovel, in case my horse decides it needs to go to the toilet, that’s a perfectly reasonable request! I’m afraid some people are just beyond help; some even petition for horses to be banned from using roads entirely! Sorry folks, but we have just as much right to be there as anyone else, deal with it. We are very happy to share the roads, I’m afraid it’s not private property and there should be no reason why the two can’t work together happily.
So what about lack of understanding? What can be done to help those who just know why they’re meant to slow down, other than the fact that they were told they should? You were also taught to drive with your hands at 10 and 2, but it doesn’t mean you still do it. I certainly think that more needs to be included in theory test information about why it’s important to pass wide and slow, and why it isn’t a good idea to get close in behind. It really isn’t just a case of making sure some toff’s beloved horse doesn’t get a bit of mane out of place, it’s safety - pure and simple. Anyone who has been caught speeding will be given the opportunity to go on an awareness course; could the equivalent not be implemented for those who drive irresponsibly around horses? And is it not reasonable to think that anyone learning to drive be provided with a simple leaflet from www.horseaccidents.org.uk to help educate drivers? There’s even one specifically for drivers of large vehicles! How many times have you been happily hacking down the road when an artic comes hurtling past? Even the quietest of horses can be spooked by the noise, and the sheer size of the vehicle, and all it takes is a second for the quarters to swing out or to jump in fright. I really believe it would make a difference if people were more clued up and understanding of our horses’ needs.
So what can we do to help, as horse riders? Well obviously there is as much an onus on us to ensure we are equally considerate, and thank those who do drive sensibly and show consideration. Wearing hi-viz helps make you more visible to drivers, and can help them to see you up to 3 seconds sooner; I personally never venture out without it nowadays. Finally, and I think most importantly, if you are involved in an accident involving a horse on the road – report it. In 2006, the Department for Transport recorded 100 rider casualties from road accidents. Whilst the BHS feel that this kind of accident is significantly under-reported, they were still made aware of 61 road accidents involving equestrians in 2010 - nine of which resulted in horses being killed or destroyed, and two riders being killed in the process. In real terms they actually believe the figure is more likely to be around 3,000 equestrian related accidents per year – but sadly they do not have the facts and figures to back it up.
If you want to help make a difference, make sure you reported all accidents you are involved with. You can do so by filling out this form: http://www.horseaccidents.org.uk/sitecore/content/mss_content/Websites/Incident/Report_an_Incident.aspx
The horse accidents website (part of the BHS), has this simple message: “Without hard evidence and hard statistics it is impossible to lobby those in power to make the changes that are required to ensure riding is safer for all. Sharing your experience could make a huge difference – together we can FIGHT FOR CHANGE.”
I think that says it all. It may not be a quick fix, but it will certainly give the BHS the tools they need in order to start lobbying on behalf of horses and their riders, and importantly, it’s something that we can all commit to. If you were touched by the awful story about Ruby, or have seen the effects of inconsiderate road users around horses, please share this message.