Taking it to the Streets: Tips for Safe Road Riding

Not a road, just a really long, convenient driveway. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld. Not a road, just a really long, convenient driveway. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Earlier this week while running some errands in our quaint North Carolina town, I didn’t expect to see three horses being ridden down the main road. We happened to be traveling the same direction as the horses, and I became extremely agitated that the three young riders were not exercising safe road riding.

For one thing, only one of the three riders had a helmet on. Need I say more?

Though it’s a small town, it’s by no means sleepy, and the riders were moving erratically in the street. As each car passed by the trio, the rider in the back would break out of line and drift suddenly left in an attempt to ride abreast of the others. He’d make this move without looking behind him to check for traffic.

Sadly, we read all the time about horses and riders being injured or killed in road riding accidents. Sometimes they are truly accidents, but there are steps that can be taken to minimize the risk.

The one and only thing these riders had going for them was that they were visible. It was a sunny day and they wore bright yellow t-shirts. If you’re going to ride on the road, dress to be seen with reflective clothing or tack. Don’t ride at night or in bad weather conditions.

Their horses were shod and they were trotting briskly down the road. It’s better to walk on the road, both to encourage a calmer, less stressful ride and to avoid slipping on the pavement.

States have differing laws regarding whether horses are considered vehicles or pedestrians when being ridden or led down a public road which determines whether they should be ridden with or against the flow of traffic. Check your state’s laws before riding out.

Travel with a buddy or let someone know where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone. Never ride more than two abreast and move into single file on a busy road or when a car needs to pass.

Don’t assume drivers will be careful around you. Assume no one else on the road has any idea how to behave around horses. Keep your eyes and ears out for approaching vehicles and move to get out of the way if necessary. Don’t be afraid to signal to drivers if they are going too fast or need to wait to pass.

Obviously, you shouldn’t take a spooky or sensitive horse on a busy road and don’t ride them anywhere where it will be especially dangerous.

And please, for the love of all things, #mindyourmelon

Long, slow road work can be great for horses’ legs and fitness and a nice change of scenery for horse and rider. Just make sure you’re being smart and safe. Here are a few useful articles about safe road riding:

Horses and the Highway Code, from the British Horse Society

Trail Riding Your Horse on the Road, from Equisearch

Horse Sense, from Think!