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Riding horses through livestock

Livestock, horses or dogs can sometimes prevent people using a right of way if the behaviour of the animals is threatening or dangerous. A highway authority has various legal means to have threatening animals removed from a right of way but users may need to provide good evidence of dangerous behaviour in order for the authority to take action.

Often horses will react to animals they are unfamiliar with, even if the behaviour of the animals is not threatening. Incidents with llamas, alpacas, emus, ostriches, deer, water buffalo, turkeys and geese have all been known and difficulties can usually be overcome with co-operation and familiarity training.

Where new stock is present on or by a bridleway or byway, it may be worth a few riders asking the animals’ owner for an opportunity to introduce horses to the animals in a safe environment, perhaps the next field, or when the owner is present. Teaching both horses and stock to accept the presence of users on the right of way can reduce the stress on the stock as well as visiting horses.

Many complaints from path users about stock arise from animal behaviour which is not dangerous but is perceived as threatening through lack of knowledge and experience, or where the actions of the user have created an adverse response in the stock.

Points to remember:

  • Any animal with young may behave differently from normal and should be treated with extra caution as mothers may be more aggressive and highly protective of their young. What they perceive as a threat in your presence or actions may not be obvious to you.
  • Breeding males (such as a bull, ram or stallion) may be aggressive and protective of their females.
  • Animals quickly sense distress and will respond accordingly. Keep calm at all times; be purposeful and quiet in your movements; make your voice strong and confident.
  • Frequent riding through livestock usually means the stock react less because visitors are common and no longer interesting. Stock also becomes familiar to the visiting horses so they too are likely to react calmly.
  • Young cattle and horses in groups may be boisterous, with ‘mob mentality’. Be firmly assertive while alert to the situation escalating.

Important guidelines for equestrians:

  • Walk quietly through the field.
  • Do not ride through any field containing livestock with a dog.
  • Avoid coming between mothers and their young; if your actions may separate them, stop until they are together before continuing slowly.
  • If stock are following you closely, turn your horse to face them, they are more likely to retreat. Shout or move towards them if necessary. You may need to do this repeatedly while crossing the field; keep calm all the time.
  • Make sure stock know you are there. Stop until they become aware of you, especially if they have young
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