Do you have to navigate a main road on the way to your usual riding route? For any horse rider using the road system, it’s vital to know the all-important Highway Code and what it says about horses. But did you know the Highway Code has recently undergone some important changes that could change how you and other road users interact? Read our guide to the changes to make sure you’re up to date and riding safely.

While you’re checking out all the latest news on the Highway Code, be sure to investigate whether your horse insurance cover is still up to scratch. Give the helpful team at Equesure a call today and check you’ve still got the most appropriate horse insurance for your needs and budget.

Horses on the road UK

What does the Highway Code say about horse riding?

A common mistake made by riders is to assume that just because the Highway Code talks about ‘road’ safety it might not always apply to where they ride. In fact the rules also apply to bridleways, footpaths, cycle tracks and many driveways and roadways found on private land.

The Highway Code is an indispensable source of advice for riding your horse anywhere around the UK. It lists:

  • The rules you’ll need to follow.
  • The clothing and headgear you’re asked to wear.
  • All the road signs you need to know about.
  • Hand signals you must use to signal to other road users.
  • The correct way for horse riders to use crossings.
  • Advice for users of horse-drawn vehicles.
  • Codes of practice.
  • Traffic laws.
  • Advice for riding on roads.
  • Advice for other road users. After all, it’s also important for you to understand what rights and responsibilities other road users have.

This article focuses on the recent changes to the advice and rules that apply to horse riders and owners travelling on UK roads. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing else in the Highway Code worthy of your attention.

You should always make sure you have your own, up to date copy of the Highway Code. It might be studied by all learner drivers, but some of us never read it after we pass our test, which can be a costly mistake. If you are involved in an accident it could be used to establish liability in any subsequent court case.

It really is the duty of all of us to stay within the law when riding on the road, learning the Highway Code, using the correct kit and following the rules at all times. As we know, horses are ‘flight’ animals and can act unpredictably when they’re scared. Even the most experienced of riders may not be able to control a horse spooked by a speeding car or a vehicle that passes too closely. This is just one of the reasons why reliable horse insurance is so important for every owner. Whether your equine friend is a happy hacker or a top-flight competitor, you’ll want them well protected when you’re out and about.

If your horse is a bit prone to spooking then read this guide on how to train a spooky horse for some top tips. 

Why has the Highway Code been changed?

The UK’s roads can be very dangerous places indeed for horses and their riders. Every year The British Horse Society (BHS) gathers together information to better understand the rate of dangerous incidents involving horses and riders on the UK’s roads. In the year 2020/21 alone, the BHS recorded:

  • 1,010 road incidents involving horses.
  • 46 horses died and 118 were injured as a result of these incidents.
  • 130 riders were injured in road incidents.
  • 45% of riders reported being victims of road rage or abuse.
  • 80% of incidents happened when a vehicle passed by too closely to the horse.
  • 43% of incidents happened when a vehicle passed by too quickly.

Bearing in mind it’s estimated only 10% of incidents are reported to BHS, these figures could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Already in 2022 there have been reports of four horses tragically killed on Britain’s roads. Including this truly heart-breaking incident involving two horses, Cassie and Jack, and their riders near Epping Forest in January 2022.

So, while it isn’t a pleasant thought, every time you head out on the road with your horse, it’s vital to remember these worrying statistics. Not all drivers will act responsibly around horses so it’s vital you do all you can to protect yourself from harm. Having the right horse insurance  in place means that if the worst does happen, you’ll have the financial support you need to get your equine friend the care it deserves.

The BHS has welcomed the changes and says it is delighted with the amendments which were a result of their involvement in the Highway Code review’s stakeholder group for vulnerable road users. This included collaboration with Cycling UK, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), walkers charity Living Streets and the Department for Transport.

It’s hoped the changes will help to keep horses, riders, handlers and carriage drivers much safer on UK roads. However, while these changes are undoubtedly a move in the right direction, there’s a lot more that needs to be done to protect horses and riders from tragic accidents every year. Every accident is one accident too many.

So, without further delay, let’s take a closer look at the rules detailed in the changed Highway Code.

Highway Code changes - a horse rider’s need to know guide

The Highway Code has hundreds of rules, so we can only highlight some of the bigger changes relevant to horse riders. However, that doesn’t mean other changes won’t also affect you as a road user. It’s a good idea to read the full list of changes on the government website.

Introduction of a hierarchy of road users

Perhaps the most headline-grabbing change has been the introduction of a new ‘hierarchy of road users’ concept into the Highway Code. The aim of the Code is not only to promote road safety but also to create a healthier, more sustainable and efficient transport system. With that in mind, the government has introduced these changes as a way of promoting and protecting use of the roads by vulnerable users such as horse riders.

Rule H1 sets out the basis for the hierarchy. It’s there to ensure road users who can cause the most serious harm in a collision will have greater responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they may pose to others.

It applies most strongly to those driving large goods and passenger vehicles, vans and minibuses, cars and taxis, and motorcycles. Although, a HGV driver will have a greater responsibility than a motorcyclist as they can cause more harm.

While the emphasis is on those motor vehicles, the Code also states that cyclists, horse riders and drivers of horse-drawn vehicles have a similar responsibility to reduce the danger they pose to pedestrians.

Prior to the published changes there had been a certain amount of online misinformation suggesting cyclists were ranked higher than riders in the hierarchy. But the government has confirmed this is not the case. Equestrians are classed at the exact same level as cyclists in the new hierarchy of road users.

However, none of this reduces the responsibility of every road user, including walkers, cyclists and horse riders, to have regard for their own and other road users’ safety. Whether you’re out for a bike ride or a leisurely hack, always be aware that the people you encounter may have impaired sight, hearing or mobility, which may not be obvious. 

Another rule change that has got the newspapers excited is Rule H2 concerning junctions. This rule states that drivers, motorcyclists, horse-drawn vehicles, horse riders and cyclists should all give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which, or from which, they are turning. There has been much discussion about this in the press so hopefully road users will soon adapt to this change!

The changes also clarify that horse riders should give way to pedestrians on a zebra crossing, and to pedestrians and cyclists on a parallel crossing.

Meanwhile, cyclists are told to give way to pedestrians on shared use cycle tracks and to horse riders on bridleways. Riders should also give way if pedestrians are waiting to cross a zebra crossing, and to pedestrians and cyclists waiting to cross a parallel crossing.

And finally, there’s Rule H3 which discusses cyclists, horse riders or horse-drawn vehicles going straight ahead at junctions. Drivers and motorcyclists turning into or out of the junction or changing direction should never cut across your path if to do so would cause you to stop or swerve.

Riding in spaces shared with walkers and cyclists

Rules 13 and 63 have introduced new guidance for those using routes designated as being shared between pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles.

They state clearly that cyclists, horse riders and drivers of horse-drawn vehicles should respect the safety of those walking. Particularly having regard to the fact they may be deaf, blind or partially sighted, and this may not be obvious. That said, walkers should also take care not to obstruct or endanger you.

You’re also reminded to always remain aware of your environment and avoid unnecessary distractions.

Cyclists are asked to take particular care when passing pedestrians and horse riders, especially children, older adults or disabled people. They’re asked to slow down or even stop when necessary and warn they are approaching (either with a bell or by calling out politely).

They are warned never to pass closely or at high speed, particularly from behind. And in a relief to many equestrians, they’re warned never to pass a horse on their left.

It’s great to see the Code taking into account that horses can be easily startled by cyclists if passed without warning.

Recommendation of the Ride Safe Award

For years, the BHS has done a great job in providing advice to riders and carriage drivers about how to ride safely on the UK’s roads. An important part of its advice has been to follow the Highway Code.

The old Rule 52 of the Code stated that before riding a horse on the road, you should ensure all tack fits well and is in good condition, and make sure you can control your horse. It also suggested that if you think your horse will be nervous of traffic you should ride with other, less nervous horses.

The updated Code now includes reference to those taking a horse-drawn vehicle onto the road. Carriage driving has now been added in several places in the Code to highlight the need for consideration in this area.

Perhaps even more importantly, the updated Code supports specific reference to the need for inexperienced horse riders, or those who haven’t ridden for a while, to consider taking the BHS Ride Safe Award. This award scheme gives an invaluable foundation for any horse rider to be safe and knowledgeable when riding on the road. It also includes:

  • Riding safely along rights of way, across agricultural land, at the beach and when warming up at competitions.
  • Negotiating hazards and obstacles.
  • Understanding common signs.
  • Dealing with conflict or difficult situations when riding.

The BHS has lots of information on the award from how to get involved and entry requirements to costs and training.

As well as having adequate horse insurance and other cover, this is perhaps the number one way to reduce your risk when riding.

Horses riding through village

More details on overtaking

In the first Highway Code changes for about 30 years involving horses, changes to Rule 163 have finally added much-needed detail to the guidance on overtaking. Rather than just saying ‘pass wide and slow’ the guidance says:

  • Pass horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 10mph and allow at least 2 metres (6.5 feet) of space.
  • Take extra care and give more space when overtaking horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles in bad weather (including high winds) and at night.
  • Drivers should wait behind the horse rider or horse-drawn vehicle and not overtake if it is unsafe or not possible to meet these clearances.

Changes such as the passing speed are a huge benefit to riders and carriage drivers as well as other vulnerable road users. It’s great to see the messaging from the BHS’s brilliant ‘Dead Slow’ safety campaign now being used in the Code.

Other changes include Rule 167, telling drivers to stay behind if they’re following a horse rider or horse-drawn vehicle approaching a roundabout or junction. They’re told to never cut across a horse rider or horse-drawn vehicle going ahead.

While Rule 212 states drivers should give horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles at least as much room as they would when overtaking a car.

Road positioning at roundabouts and narrow sections

Guiding your horse on a roundabout is not for the faint-hearted. But if you do decide to do so then there are changes to Rule 186 that may be of interest. The updated Code explains that horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles may stay in the left-hand lane when they intend to continue across or around the roundabout.

Further guidance is also given explaining you should signal right to show drivers you’re not leaving the roundabout. Drivers are also warned to take extra care when entering a roundabout to ensure they don’t cut across such horse riders or horse-drawn vehicles in the left-hand lane.

Updates to Rule 213 encouraging cyclists to ride in the centre of lanes in certain circumstances have obviously led to the usual headlines claiming a ‘war’ between cyclists and drivers. But there are also changes in the rule that impact horse riders.

Rule 213 now says that on narrow sections of road, horse riders may ride in the centre of the lane to ensure they can both see and be seen by other road users – a valuable safety measure approved by the Code.

Further consideration for New Forest, Exmoor, and Dartmoor ponies

Steps the BHS has long recommended drivers take when approaching, overtaking, passing or moving away near equestrians have now been added in Rule 215. It tells drivers to:

  • Slow down to a maximum of 10mph.
  • Don’t beep your horn or rev your engine – be patient.
  • When it’s safe to do so, pass wide and slow.
  • Allow at least 2 metres of space when passing.

There’s also great news for equine enthusiasts concerned about the lack of protection for feral or semi-feral ponies found in areas such as the New Forest, Exmoor and Dartmoor. A welcome change is that drivers are now required to give these animals the same consideration as ridden horses when approaching or passing. A great victory for the BHS and all horse lovers.

As a final point, it’s great to see the Code asking drivers to remember there are three brains at work when they pass a horse; the rider’s, the driver’s and the horse’s! It’s all too easy for drivers with little experience of horses to forget that these equines are flight animals and can move incredibly quickly if startled. If the warning prevents just one accident then it will be worth it!

Reporting incidents to the BHS

Whether or not it requires a claim on your horse insurance, if you’re involved in an incident on the UK’s roads then the BHS is urging you to report any incidents using the new Horse i app (available on iOS and Android). This will enable the BHS to gather data to help strengthen its voice when implementing positive changes, such as those found in the new Highway Code.

While downloading the Horse i app why not take a look at these great apps just right for horse riders? From training management to monitoring your horse's health and riding performance, there are plenty of apps designed to help you keep safe and get the best from your time together.

Protecting your horse in every situation with horse insurance

There are clearly a lot of changes for you to take in. That’s why keeping horse insurance as simple and as straightforward as possible is so important.

Our team will find tailored horse insurance that’s right for you and your four-legged friend. Our cover can include benefits such as:

  • Vet’s fees cover up to £4,500 per incident with an unlimited number of claims within the policy year.
  • Personal dental cover available on some policies up to £1,750 if required.
  • An additional discount for insuring more than one horse.
  • Saddlery and tack cover.
  • Horseboarding cover.
  • Personal accident cover up to £20,000.
  • Public liability cover up to £3 million.
  • Loss of use cover available with all insurers.
  • EU cover/usage.
  • Cover for the death, theft or straying of your horse.

Call us for a quote for horse insurance today.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.

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