Riding

Rules of the Road

Follow these safety measures to avoid tragedies while horseback riding by roads.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Riding horses in groups increases safety, especially if one of the horses is experienced at trail riding near traffic. Journal photo

Horseback riders can't control truck and car drivers. But taking safety measures helps prevent incidents while riding near busy roads and intersections.

For riders, take time to learn about laws pertaining to horses on roads. Do you know which side of the road to ride on? Left or right? If you’re not sure, you’re not alone.

Actually, it depends on where you live. “It’s important to check your state regulations regarding which side of the road you should ride,” says Cathy Bickell, former trails liaison for the Colorado Horsemen’s Council. However, most states barely mention horses other than as vehicles that must abide by the same laws as the motorized type.

According to Colorado state law, people leading or riding animals on or along any highway should ride or lead their animals on the left side. This is the side facing approaching traffic. Horses act as pedestrians, bicycles act as cars. In other words, feet go with feet and wheels with wheels.

In Texas, the law is different. According to the Department of Public Safety, horseback riders ride with the traffic, as would a bicycle. Horses are a means of transportation and are considered non-motorized vehicles.

Whether you are riding with or against traffic, the rules of the road remain the same. Riders should acknowledge stop signs and lights, yield signs and be extremely careful at intersections. “In areas of heavy traffic, it is often best to dismount and lead the horse across. It’s better to avoid an accident than to create one,” Cathy says.

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Taking a horse out on the road requires a lot more responsibility from the rider. “Horses are living creatures and are not like two-wheel bicycles that can be easily controlled,” Cathy says.

Riders often find themselves sharing the pavement with motorists who don’t know, and often don’t care, about the needs of horses and riders. Drivers need to consider the riders’ well-being, and riders need to be courteous to motorists. “I suggest that drivers slow down when approaching a horse and rider, and do not blow your horn,” Cathy says.

While some states make an effort to educate motorists about horseback road-users, it’s important to learn about the specific rules in your state or any state to which you plan to travel.

“Signaling to a motorist when your horse is acting up can warn him of a potentially dangerous situation,” Cathy says. “Many drivers don’t know about horses and the dangers involved.”

Riders should consider wearing a helmet. “It’s a safety measure that could save you from a head injury.”

Being able to control your horse in all types of unexpected situations is one of the initial requirements for safety. The best way to prepare and train the horse for road riding is to do it at home. “When you first start training your horse, introduce him to all sorts of road paraphernalia. Teach him to stand still and not be frightened.”

Introduce your horse to obstacles, such as mailboxes, highway signs, ground poles, cardboard boxes, plastic bags and paper sacks. “Any type of obstacle training is good for the horse before taking him around traffic,” Cathy says.

When a horse becomes scared of an obstacle on the road, calm him before leading or riding him past it. “Sometimes it’s best to dismount, and other times it’s not advisable. Trust your better judgment,” Cathy says. “Some riders will often carry a long, stout rope just in case they need to dismount and train their horses on an obstacle. But sometimes you are in a situation where you don’t have the time to train, and you just try to get past the obstacle in the safest manner.”

Loose or barking dogs can be dangerous. Cathy suggests leaving your dog at home when riding down the road.

Traffic noise can cause additional problems. Horses kept in a paddock near a heavily traveled highway become somewhat familiar with noisy trucks, bicycles, ATVs and motorcycles. “You may choose to tape-record these noises when training other horses,” Cathy says.

“If your horse is spooked or scared by a passing vehicle, face the horse toward the oncoming vehicle by positioning him in a wide part of the shoulder or in a driveway,” Cathy says. “The rider should remain calm, speak to the horse quietly and be patient. Allow the horse to overcome his fears before proceeding.”

It is a good idea to avoid riding a fresh or excited horse on the road. A well-trained and mannered horse is the safest mount. Cathy advises working the horse or longeing him until he has settled down and can be ridden safely. With green and spooky horses, she recommends riding with a mature, experienced horse. Also, riding with a friend is a safety factor, just in case there is a need to go for help. Cathy recommends that if you plan to ride alone, always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.

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Ride on the roads at a walk and watch the ground for broken bottles, unstable soil, soft shoulders and holes. Pavement and hard surfaces can cause serious leg and foot injuries to the horse. Plus, pavement can be slippery, especially for a shod horse.

“A hard-surfaced road is no place to give your horse a lope,” Cathy stresses. “I still carry scars on my ankles from when my horse fell on pavement when I was a child.”

Always ride single-file on the shoulder of the road, especially when it’s narrow. Be sure to ride a full horse’s length behind the horse in front to avoid the possibility of being kicked.

Drainage ditches are sometimes wide enough for riders to ride side-by-side. Use your best judgment and watch for broken glass and cans.

Do not ride after dark. It is very difficult for motorists to see you. “If you have to ride at night, place reflective tape on your back and saddle,” Cathy says. “Wear light-colored clothing and carry a flashlight and reflectors.”

Riding down the roadside can be beneficial to a horse’s training, but trail riders need to be cautious and careful because a pleasant time can easily turn into a dangerously unpleasant situation.