Unless you’re riding almost exclusively on busy ‘A’ roads you are going to come across horses on your ride at some point. We all have to share the road but many people are scared of horses or worried about what a horse might do when faced with either a single rider or group of riders. With a little thought and consideration passing horses should become no more worrisome than passing another cyclist.
The most important thing is that you communicate with the horse rider (and horse) as early as possible in the passing manoeuvre which will give everyone the best opportunity to pass each other safely. If you’re approaching from behind then it’s vital you make the horse and rider aware of you presence as soon as possible. If you have a bell then a gentle ‘ding’ should be enough to do the trick but if you haven’t got one then whistling can be a good option too or failing that a cheery ‘Hello’ will suffice. What you really don’t want to do is creep up on the horse and spook it – a horse won’t see you until you’re almost level with its head by which time is too late.
Second to communication has to be visibility – the earlier a horse and rider can see you the better your chances are of everything going smoothly, so small but obvious movements are good as are good running light. However, horses can be easily spooked by flashing lights so if you have front flashers either turn them off or to ‘steady’ when approaching a horse.
Wide and Slow
You’ll see many horse riders with this on their vests, and it’s great advice. Horses are generally fine with passing traffic whether cycle or car, so long as the person passing is taking it slowly and gives them plenty of room. This applies equally whether passing from the front or back. If there isn’t room to pass wide then wait for an opportunity, this is as much about your safety as the horses, they can certainly deliver a powerful kick!
Riding in a group is certainly safer and makes you more visible to other road users but when it comes to horses smaller is definitely better – if you’re in a group of more than about four or five then it’s a good idea to split up in to smaller groups of no more than five per group and use all the other advice in this post to pass the horse in the safest manner for all.
Avoid unexpected noise
Even if the horse and rider are aware of your presence, avoid spooking the horse by making more noise than necessary. Squeaky brakes, harsh gear change, and even loud chatter can easily turn a pleasant situation in to something else.
We appreciate that it can be frustrating to have to slow down occasionally for horses (especially if you’re a Strava bunny trying to shave precious seconds off the current segment) however there’s nothing like a little courtesy to make any passing manoeuvre go smoothly. In our experience most horse riders will happily move to a verge or into a driveway etc to help you pass and a simple “Morning, Thank you” goes a long way. At the end of the day we all have to share the road so let’s make it as pleasant for everyone as we can.