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Country Driving Tips: How To Drive Near Horses

Over the summer, a lot of us head out into the wide open spaces for a holiday. Country driving is a lot different from city driving, with the empty roads and higher speeds being just one of the things. Or should that be “mostly empty roads”? There are other drivers out there on the roads who are driving just as fast as you are, and there are other hazards that you just don’t get in town, and most of these hazards have four feet.

Horses are one such rural hazard and they are legitimate road users, so if you see a horse and rider on the tarmac ahead of you, you can’t get indignant and wonder why they aren’t off the road. As is the case for bicycles, you have to share the road with horses.

However, horses aren’t bicycles and it’s not just a case of overtaking them when you get close and making sure that you give them enough space to fall over safely. Bikes do not have brains; horses do. And a horse’s brain isn’t a human’s brain, so a horse on the road might not react the way a human would. You don’t want a horse coming through your windscreen. It won’t just be the horse and the rider that gets badly injured or killed: as a horse is very heavy (half a tonne for something the size of the average racehorse or stock horse), it could kill or injure you and the front passenger as well.

To drive safely near horses, it’s important to understand how a horse thinks. A horse is a herbivore whose main form of defence is to run like heck. This is often very dangerous for a rider, because of the risk of falling at high speed, as well as the risk of the horse colliding with something because it’s so focused on the scary thing behind it. Things that prey on horses in the wild make growly roaring noises and often take horses by surprise. It takes a fair bit of training to help a horse realise that that roaring thing isn’t actually a jaguar or a lion that can eat them – it’s just a V8 Jaguar or a Holden with a lion on the front. Most horses that are ridden out on the road have had this training, but drivers still have to do their bit, because the basic instincts are still there in that horsy brain.

The first thing you can do is to ease off the accelerator. This isn’t just so you can slow down enough to react in time if the horse suddenly swerves or something unpredictable happens. This stops your engine making that roaring noise that sounds like a predator. Don’t reapply the accelerator until you’re well past the horse.


Secondly, and most importantly, DON’T HONK YOUR HORN! This will hurry the horse up, all right, but in a way that could potentially kill. You want to avoid spooking the horses at all costs.

Horses can be startled by all sorts of things and they have different temperaments. If a horse is giving the rider trouble, it’s best if you can slow down to a crawl as you go past or even stop. The hand signal for “I am having trouble controlling my horse – please slow down” that can and should be given by the rider is the right arm held out (like the right-turning signal from a cyclist) and waved up and down. Of course, if the horse is being particularly difficult, the rider may need both hands on the reins. Use your eyes: if the horse is walking slowly with its head down and its ears pricked forwards or tilted to the side, it’s relaxed. If it has its head high and its ears back, it is agitated.

Share the road with horses – drive past slowly and considerately, and enjoy it as part of the sights to be seen in the countryside.