Meeting Horses When Out Exploring

Riding a horse along a Public Right of Way route

3rd November 2022

Horses are large and powerful flight animals, which makes them and their riders amongst the most vulnerable groups of road users. In England, there are roughly 3 million horse riders and many of us use public roads to reach local bridleways or off-road locations. Horses are sensitive to their surroundings; they often tell us there is something ahead before we can see it ourselves. They have good hearing and vision but have blind spots directly in front and behind.

It’s usually a surprise that makes a horse jump, called spooking. A horse can spook at a pigeon flying out a tree, sheep behind a hedge, something they have passed many times or seemingly nothing at all. As riders, many of us do our best to stay safe on the roads, we wear hi-vis clothing, avoid riding in poor conditions, show courtesy to other road users and spend many years desensitising our horses to traffic. However, they have a mind of their own so expect the unexpected.

Below are some top tips for when you come across horse riders out exploring:


Equestrians have the same right to be on the road as motorists or any other road user. Understanding, respect and consideration by all road users is required to ensure road safety for everyone.

  • Slow down to a maximum of 10mph
  • Be patient, give us time to pull over somewhere safe if there is no room to pass
  • Give the horse and rider at least 2m when passing
  • Follow the riders hand signals and be prepared to stop
  • Horses can find motorbikes loud and scary, be prepared to stop, turn your engine off and allow us to pass safely


Walkers may come across horse riders on bridleways, byways, and roads.

  • If approaching from behind, don’t walk too close and let the horse and rider know you are there by calling out
  • If you have a dog and spot a horse rider coming towards you, recall your dog and put them on a lead
  • Don’t shout or make sudden movements near horses as this can spook them


Cyclists can be a silent group who creep up from behind with little to no warning. Due to horse’s blind spots these can spook horses causing them to jump sideways, launch forwards or spin around to get a better look at what frightened them.

  • As you approach a horse from behind, please let us know you are there by calling out “hello” or “bike behind” this will alert us and the horse that you are there
  • Take a wide berth, slow down and make sure it is safe to overtake
  • If in large groups, consider thinning out so not to bombard the horse or give the rider time to pull over somewhere safe
  • Mountain bikers should be aware of what trails allow horses and be mindful of them when out and about

If you’d like to find out more take a look at The British Horse Society’s Dead Slow campaign

Written by Karley Hubbard, Insight, Monitoring & Evaluation Officer for Active Kent & Medway.

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