Advice for Motorists

Most horse riders would prefer not to ride on the roads. However, a lack of off-road access means using roads is a necessity for many riders. Riders have the same right to be on the road as motorists, cyclists or any other user group. With a bit of understanding and consideration on all sides, there’s room for everyone to use the roads in harmony and safety.

It’s important to understand that horses are prey animals and their usual response to danger is flight. This means that however well-trained and calm a horse normally is, they can still be unpredictable and frightened by something they perceive as a threat. This is their natural instinct and means a horse’s reaction to a threat is to try to escape the situation. A horse’s range of hearing is greater than a human to higher frequencies (over 33kHz in the horse compared with under 20kHz in humans) although a horse may not be able to hear the lowest frequencies audible to humans. 

They use their hearing for three primary functions: to detect sounds, to determine the location of the sound, and to provide sensory information that allows the horse to recognise the identity of these sources. Horses will react to unexpected or loud noises. 

This is why it’s vital to always pass horses slowly and with plenty of room.

In some instances, the rider may be busy keeping control of their horse and not able to acknowledge your consideration, but they will be very grateful to you.

How can you help?

If I see a horse on the road;

Then I will....

  • Slow down to a maximum of 10mph
  • Be patient, I won't sound my horn or rev my engine
  • Pass the horse wide and slow (at least 2 metres)
  • Drive slowly away

The BHS is acutely aware that safe use of the roads is everyone’s responsibility. We advise all equestrians to make sure they’re familiar with the Highway Code and to stick to it. Our Ride Safe Award gives riders the confidence to ride in the environments they are most often faced with, including on the road, keeping themselves and their horse safe.

What can you do?

  • Familiarise yourself with the guidance in the Highway Code on how to pass horses safely.
  • On seeing a horse on the road (whether ridden, driven or led), please slow down to a maximum of 10mph and be prepared to stop if necessary.
  • Heed a riders or carriage drivers signal if they ask you to stop or slow down.
  • Look out for a rider or carriage driver's signal to turn and wait for them to do so safely before continuing your journey. Wait until they are fully off the road before continuing.
  • If the horse(s) show signs of nervousness as you get closer, please stop and/or turn the engine off and allow them to pass.
  • Please don’t start your engine, or move off again until the horse(s) are well clear of the rear end of the vehicle.
  • If you are approaching horses on the road and would like to overtake them, please approach slowly, or even stop to give them time to find a gateway or other place off the road where there will be enough space between the horse and vehicle to allow you to pass safely. 
  • Please be patient. Most equestrians will do their best to reassure their horses and will allow you to pass as soon as safe to do so.
  • The safest place for the rider’s hands is on the reins, so they may only be able to nod their thanks to you – but please do be assured that they will be very grateful for your consideration.

Large Vehicles and Agricultural Vehicles

Horses can be nervous of large vehicles, particularly when they do not often meet them. They can run away in panic if they are really frightened.

In such a situation, the main factors causing the fear are:

  • Being approached by something which is unfamiliar and intimidating
  • A large moving object, especially if it is noisy
  • Lack of space between the horse and the vehicle
  • The sound of the vehicle’s air brakes

In order to keep everyone safe, ensure you heed a riders or carriage drivers signals should they ask you to slow down or stop. If stopped, please do not start to move away again until they are suitably clear of the rear end of your vehicle. If the horse(s) show signs of nervousness as you get closer, please turn the engine off and allow them to pass. Please don’t start your engine, or move off again until the horse(s) are well clear of the rear end of the vehicle.

Horses and Gritting Lorries

Whilst encounters between horses and gritting lorries are fairly infrequent, the nature of these vehicles with flashing lights and the noise from the spreading equipment is not familiar to most horses. This may cause the horse to react in a way that could be challenging to the rider. 

To Drivers:

  • Stop, turn off the gritter and lights, and allow the rider to find a safer place where the horse is less likely to react to the lorry, so that you can continue without startling the horse.  
  • When the horse is settled and is in a safe position, continue past the horse at a slow speed – no more than 10 mph - (ideally without flashing lights).
  • Once you have passed the horse/rider and can see that they are settled, drive slowly away and reinstate your flashing lights.
  • Remember – it may take a few moments but if there is an accident requiring emergency services or vet you will be delayed even longer. See the below instructions to riders.

To Riders:

  • Familiarise yourself with the gritting status of roads you use regularly and sign up to any notification service provided by your Highways Authority – this will allow you to lower the risk of meeting gritter lorries. 
  • Gritter lorries cannot miss sections of road in the salt distribution as to do so risks dangerous ice.  Except on wide roads, the salt is sprayed over both lanes but not beyond the kerb.  So you should move off the main carriageway and as far away from the gritting area, as possible.
  • If your horse is likely to be challenged by being passed or overtaken by a gritter lorry, you should be familiar with these instructions given to the drivers. (See above)
  • If you see that a gritter lorry is behind you, look for somewhere safe to step off the main carriageway.  Turn your horses head so that they can see the source of the noise/flashing lights.
  • Once you have done so, signal to the driver that your horse is settled; they should then pass you slowly.
  • The BHS always recommends wearing appropriate Hi-Viz clothing when riding out, this enables you to increase your conspicuity and visibility to all drivers. See theTransport Research Laboratory Report – Conspicuity of Horses and Riders on Roads
  • If you have an incident with a gritter lorry that causes you concern please report it to the BHS Incident Website


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