We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Horses and cars can get along on the road

Riders who wear safety vests remind drivers that they can help in avoiding animal-vehicle conflicts.  Photograph by: Ray Smith, Victoria Times Colonist

Riders who wear safety vests remind drivers that they can help in avoiding animal-vehicle conflicts. Photograph by: Ray Smith, Victoria Times Colonist

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, June 7th 2013

Every person who rides a horse, whether in rural, urban or controlled areas, appreciates the courtesy afforded them by the typical motorist.

The problems that develop between vehicle drivers and those using real-life single or multiple horse power are generally the fault of vehicle drivers who are unaware of the special circumstances when encountering the animals and their riders. Here are some general tips for driver behaviour.

Pass slow and wide, when it is possible to do so. Riders will appreciate the additional space. There is always a chance the horse will get spooked by an untimely sound or object. Their first response to stress is to flee. A rider has to control a horse the same way we drivers must control our vehicles. The big difference is that the horse has the same five senses as a human, and most of all a mind of its own.

Drivers should not honk their horn when approaching a horse and rider. It is inappropriate to do so from any direction. Even the sound of a rattling trailer can cause an animal to bolt for fear of the unknown.

Experienced riders know their animals and will align with traffic depending on the comfort zone of the horse in question. Riders should never attempt to encounter vehicular traffic on the road without a gradual and staged introduction to it. Experienced riders have told me that even the most “bombproof” seasoned equine can be unpredictable in unfamiliar territory and circumstance.

Cyclists should verbally announce their presence rather than use a bell or horn. Horses react well to voice commands. A cyclist is virtually impossible to hear when approaching from behind. A bell or horn will be a great concern to a horse particularly if the horse cannot see the source of the warning noise.

Dogs should be leashed around horses. If there is a conflict with an unleashed dog, the owner of the dog should not yell commands to the dog, but rather get control in a calm manner. Surprisingly, the commands can be more irritating to the horse than an unruly dog.

Horse riders should do all they can to be noticed. Wearing a reflective vest helps alert inattentive drivers to the presence of a unique potential roadside danger. Many responsible horse riders will actually wear fluorescent vests that read “pass slow and wide.” They will put strategically placed florescent strips on their horse as well.

Motorcyclists should slow when encountering horses on the shoulder of the road. Loud noise from motorcycles is a concern for all horse riders, and they appreciate it when motorcycle riders cut power to help horse riders control their animals. Slick roads are a threat to both horses and motorcycles alike.

Sometimes even the swooshing sound of any passing motor vehicles will spook the animal.

Horse-drawn carriages are treated as slow moving vehicles and have all the rights and responsibilities of roadway vehicles. They display a clipped orange-and-red triangular slow-moving vehicle sign at the back of the carriage, to warn following drivers.

We should all be prepared to share the road with horses. This includes the times when horses use trail systems.

Courtesy is contagious. Showing such reciprocal courtesy will ensure there are not more horses’ asses on the road than horses.


Steve Wallace is the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is the former Western Canadian vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas and a registered B.C. teacher.

© Copyright 2013





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