What to do if you meet a horse rider
By John Magrath
This summer many of us have been getting out on our bikes, and some of us on our horses too. What should you do if you meet a horse rider while out cycling? A couple of years ago I highlighted a very good educational campaign about this from Cycling UK and the British Horse Society called “Be Nice, Say Hi!” Basically, you should let the horse rider know you are there. It seems a good time to return to the subject because the updates made to the Highway Code this year (2022) include new and welcome guidance about routes and spaces which are shared by people walking, cycling and riding horses.
What the Highway Code says
Updated rule 63 particularly applies to horses and horse-drawn vehicles. It says cyclists should:
Slow down when necessary and let them know you are there; for example, by ringing your bell (it is recommended that a bell is fitted to your bike), or by calling out politely.… Do not pass pedestrians, horse riders or horse drawn vehicles closely or at high speed, particularly from behind. You should not pass a horse on their left. Remember that horses can be startled if passed without warning. Always be prepared to slow down and stop when necessary.
Most of us who cycle know this, do these things, and are polite and friendly with it. In my experience, problems for the horse rider are only likely to arise – and they do – when a cyclist simply doesn’t know what to do, especially when they are being almost too polite. That is, if the cyclist is worried that calling out or ringing their bell will startle the horse. Ideally, I’d say it’s best to do both.
Let horse and rider know you are there
It is always better to let horse and rider know you are there if you come up behind them. The horse probably already knows and is usually unphased, but the rider might not realise, and the horse won’t move over (if it needs to) without the rider’s say-so. If a cyclist keeps behind the horse and lurks there silently, unsure what to do, the horse may interpret this as strange and possibly predatory behaviour, which can result in them becoming alarmed. A young horse may become particularly worried.
It is also important to give the horse and the rider time to react and perform any necessary manoeuvres to allow the cyclist to pass. Rule 63 wisely reminds us that “pedestrians may be deaf, blind or partially sighted and that this might not be obvious”. Well, these considerations apply to this particular cyclist and horse rider too, as he is becoming ever harder of hearing and has been known not to hear a cyclist’s bell. In addition, one of our horses has had his right (roadside) eye removed, so the same guidance applies to animals too.
Do be prepared to call out as well as ringing your bell, and be patient.
Finally, if cycling off road, remember that horses have precedence on bridleways. The same rules apply, but even more so. For example, be prepared to dismount from your bike and stand to one side to allow the horse and rider to pass if the bridleway is narrow.
Remembering the Highway Code means we can always say to one another, whether from the seat of a bike, or from the saddle of a horse, “have a good ride!”
(Main image: © Peter Trimming, Four Wheels and Eight Legs, CC BY-SA 2.0)