Should horses and riders be licensed to ride on public roads?
Members, we have discussed this topic before. Sharing roads is a contentious issue - after all the horse came before the car. So here is a reprint of an article I wrote some time ago. The issue won’t go away:
Should a rider be Licensed to ride in the community?
My horse was kept at a livery yard in a village in Britain surrounded by glorious countryside down in a valley underneath a hillside. The forest, which runs along the ridge above the village, is a maze of pathways all of which are accessible by riding up the hill through the country lanes which meet by the car park close by the ancient five way junction. The views from horseback in all directions are stupendous. The ancient sandy tracks which were originally created to allow the collection of timber criss cross through the forest. It is a marvellous terrain over which to ride, or even gallop, a horse. The birds twitter, the buzzards circle overhead, the deer gamble and the rabbits scurry hither and thither. Early on a crisp spring day it is a magical place to be especially if mounted on a sure footed horse. The forest attracts horse riders but strangely enough not as many as one might expect. The problem is access, not only for the horse riders but also the cyclists, the runners and the pedestrians who also set out to enjoy the countryside.
To get to the forest it is necessary to pass along the country lanes through one of several villages which have been developed alongside the lanes. The effective boundary to this area of outstanding natural beauty is the three lane highway laid down by the Romans almost 2000 years ago which has since been periodically upgraded. Along that A grade road thunder the lorries, the vans, the cars and the motor cycles. The high road is classified as dangerous and along a stretch of a few miles there are two radar traps for speeding motorists and several lay-bys in which often lurk the mobile speed traps operated by the traffic police. It is very easy for the incautious driver to lose his/her licence to drive.
For a horse rider it can be a terrifying experience to ride a horse along the verge of this highway even on those sections where there is a pavement. One chooses whether to ride at the speeding traffic or in the opposite direction and along with it. The rider needs a stable confident seat and the horse should be calm and placid because the vehicles often whoosh by some few feet away at up to 60 miles per hour.
To reach the Forest the rider must pass through the local village made up of approximately 50 executive houses. Access is by one of three country lanes classified as ‘C’ roads. Hereabouts a ‘C’ road is some 10 foot wide of tarmac edged by a thousand year old green hedgerow which is trimmed back once a year, usually in the Autumn. At strategic places along the lane there are passing bays where one car stops to allow the other car coming from the opposite direction to pass. There are no pavements along these rural roads and the pedestrian walks in the centre of the lane. There is no lighting for the winter nights - the walker carries a torch.
The lane is shared by all of the traffic seeking access to the village. Along it rumbles the delivery vans, the builders lorries, the tractors and the utility vehicles operated by the power and water authorities. The bus service operates once a week when a small bus comes by and takes the local passengers to the nearby city. The bus returns a few hours later. For the villager to spend money to buy petrol, newspapers of basic foodstuffs. calls for a 8 mile round trip to the local garage in a nearby village. It is mandatory for every household to own at least one car, some households have three or more. The parents must go to work, the kids must go to school, the tradesmen call by. Every resident and every visitor can only use one of the three country lanes for the outward and the return journey.
There are about 30 horses resident in the village and most of them are stabled at the livery yard to the north of the village on the way to the forest. Every rider who has call to go through the village must pass by the vehicles both private and commercial, the agricultural machinery and the pedestrians. The mounted rider when meeting with a vehicle from the opposite direction must decide to choose when to push on and to forse the driver back or whether to squeeze by the vehicle or whether to turn back to the lay by and hold hard whilst the vehicle comes on. During this manoeuvre the horse must stand still whilst the car passes by within just a foot or so from the horse’s flanks. On occasions this all takes place to the music of the lawn mower, the hedge trimmer or the rubbish collector. There are of course also the dogs standing at the gates protecting their property by barking at the horse passing by . The kids scurry around on their push bikes. The youngster play football on the village green The cyclist en route to the forest whooshes silently by. The washing flaps in the breeze. The odd plastic bag wafts by in the breeze. Out in the fields the cows moo, the sheep baa and the pigs oink. The passenger jets fly at height on to Heathrow, the military helicopters on exercise circle overhead. Otherwise this rural scene is all very postcard picturesque of a green and pleasant land.
Just how does one explain to a sensitive horse that there are no bears or tigers lurking about to eat her; that the strange noises are from motorised machines; that no harm will come to her as long as she stands perfectly still at her rider’s command. And that when she moves, she can walk or she can jog or even trot but she must on no account canter. Neither dare she whirl nor shy, nor buck nor rear.
How do I explain that old Mrs Smith is in a hurry and that is why she did not slow down as she passed by?
How do I explain that the hydraulic brakes on a lorry go ‘shsssh’ but it means the lorry has stopped.?
The objective of this little epistle is to explain what it means to ride in semi-rural Britain. This tale of my village is repeated all across the country. Hacking out in the twenty first century is no longer a gentle stroll in the countryside, rather is it an expedition to be carefully planned. It can be a very enjoyable outing but often it can be terrifying. But if we equestrians are to preserve the legal right of being allowed to use the highway system then some of us British riders must continue to mix horse with traffic - despite the obvious dangers in doing so.
Surprisingly as a horse rider, as yet, I do not need a licence or qualification to take my horse onto this bear pit.. My horse has never been judged by any authority to be fit for purpose. Yet, looking through my eyes as a driver I know that I can lose my licence to drive and maybe my livelihood for a minor infringement of the rules of the road. A fair judgement of both positions is a hard one to make although a little tolerance and courtesy of both the horse rider’s and the car driver’s point of view would reduce the risks to both parties.
Nevertheless I do sometimes wish a speeding car driver knew just how much it hurts to fall onto the tarmac from the back of a horse and also how much damage four steel horse shoes can do to the bodywork of a shiney car however thick the metal.
The truth of the matter is that if a horse does bolt along a narrow country lane and the rider loses control of the spooked animal and the pair of horse and rider hit head on with a small family car doing 25 mph or more
the car won’t be left driveable but the driver won’t be driving for a while anyway
and neither will the rider be riding a horse for a while
and the horse won’t be eating any more hay
This subject is all a matter of commonsense and consideration for the needs of other road users.
However is it really necessary to introduce legislation to keep horse and car apart?