Be nice, say hi! What to do near horses
By John Magrath
Now that so many more of us are getting out and about on our bikes, it feels like a very good time to revive some excellent advice from Cycling UK about what to do when we encounter horse riders. Many people who haven’t cycled regularly before might not have encountered horses; regular cyclists taking advantage of somewhat quieter roads to travel further afield and at speed might be meeting them more often. As a cyclist for 50 years and a horse rider for the last 25, I wanted to remind readers how in 2018 Cycling UK teamed up with the British Horse Society (BHS) in a campaign with the neat, simple slogan: Be Nice, Say Hi!
When approaching horses from behind, simply inform the rider that you are there. Just slow down, stay back and say, clearly and in a friendly way, something like: “Hello! Bicycle behind you. Do you mind if I pass?”. If you have a bell, do (gently) ring it too.
Please don’t lurk silently behind the horses (even if they know you are there, it worries them) or worse, lurk silently and then suddenly overtake without warning. Give the rider time to respond, and horses room when passing and needless to say (but sadly it does need repeating), don’t be rude or aggressive. Say thanks! (Please never, ever – as I witnessed once – weave in and out between the horses!)
You might be worried that you’ll frighten the horses by letting them know you’re there. In fact, horses often know you are there before the rider does, but bicycles are silent, so this might not always be the case. Furthermore, if two horses are being ridden abreast, even if the outside horse knows you are there, it will not move over of its own volition to let a cyclist pass. So do politely inform the rider of your presence. Some horses, if old and stiff, might take a few moments to move over (and the same applies to the riders!) so please be patient (don’t tell the rider, as happened to me recently, “you shouldn’t be in the middle of the road”).
When riding my horse, I meet cyclists every day and most horses, around Boar’s Hill or Otmoor, say, are used to bikes. But young horses have to learn, and even one scary encounter could start a pattern of troublesome behaviour. And other horses are just naturally nervous.
I also take advantage of the network of bridleways around Oxford to do off-road, car-free cycling. Bridleways, with their horse-friendly gates, are often equally bike-friendly. But they were created for horses; if you meet horses on them, especially if the bridleway is narrow, please give precedence to horses, pass wide or be prepared to get off and stand to one side. Some bridleway gates are very stiff, and a horse rider will always appreciate a cyclist holding a gate open for them and saving them from having to dismount and mount again.
The BHS and Cycling UK campaign has excellent videos on what to do when you meet a horse and their rider both on and off-road.
So to make for more and happy and safe riding for us all, remember: be nice, say hi!