Is the thought of having to ride your horse down a busy bitumen rod to access a trail enough to strike fear into your very soul? Would you rather go to the trouble of floating your horse than deal with the shortest of road routes?
if so, you are certainly not alone. Horse and rider safety on roads is a widely overlooked issue in the public forum, as each year the horse riding community incurs a string of road accidents and near misses?
What are our rights and responsibilities as a horse riders on the road?
According to the Western Australian road rules relating to horses and riders, horses being ridden are considered vehicles. Riders are therefore required to obey all road rules that apply to drivers of motor vehicles.
The Road Traffic Code goes on to stipulate several more conditions, most of which are downright obvious and rather humorous.
Do not ride your horse on a freeway.
When riding your horse on a road at night, always display lights ad reflective gear. (People actually ride their horses on roads at night?)
It is illegal to ride under the influence of drugs or alcolhol.
A tragically tiny piece of text at the bottom advises drivers to slow down, give horses a wide berth, and expect the unexpected. But are drivers really being careful enough?
After her horse trek along the Bicentennial National Trail in 2018, Rhonda Charles saw the need for motorists to have a greater awareness of horses on the roads. As a result, she produced the awesome video below.
With most horse owners owning a float and being fortunate enough to live away from built-up areas or busy roads, it begs the question of whether or not we actually should be on the roads at all.
Should horse riders stay off the roads at all costs?
One only needs to peek at the litany of negative comments generated on Facebook to get a sense of just how many people feel strongly against horse-riders being on the road. Take one interesting post for example- interesting, that is, because of the reactions it garnered.
The post was a reminder for locals to slow down when passing horses, and warned of the dangers of reckless driving when sharing the road with horse riders.
Nothing new there.
What gets one thinking, however, is some of the replies. Check out this old chestnut:
Until horse riders pay registration fees like the rest of us motorists, they have no right to be on the road.
Why, pray, should horse riders contribute to road infrastructure costs when we would be quite happy if bitumen roads reverted back to the sandy tracks they once were, long before vehicles ruled the world? The idea that ‘roads are for cars only’ has insidiously crept in over the last few decades, leaving horse riders out in the cold.
Sadly, this sentiment is perhaps best illustrated by the following comment, made on the same post.
That road is not a place for horses to be led or ridden. Its a bad road and not worth the risk.
And how tragically true. The road in question happened to be a local thoroughfares, and given the choice, most horse riders avoid it like the plague.
But the saddest thing?
That road wasn’t always bad. In fact, the local riding school happened to be situated on it, smack bang on the first bend out of town.
25 years ago, on any given day, you could see a string of ponies and smiling young riders wending their way up that bitumen road. There was a sign or two notifying drivers of horse-riders, and people always slowed down. Chances are it would be for your own niece or son’s classmate, because after all, didn’t everyone know someone who rode horses back then?
Many adults riders today hold fond memories of exploring the bush, taking risks, camping out, and falling in love with the landscape from the back of our horse. Getting somewhere on our own steam by using our horses as vehicles and traveling companions was what it was all about.
But perhaps those days have gone.
With the ever-increasing insurance headaches, that little riding school astride the bitumen road closed down. The horses were moved off, and the land carved up and sold as residential blocks. Today, the road verge has been deleted by wire rope barriers. Cars fly around the corners at godforsaken speeds. Today, the last thing you would expect to see on that road is a horse and rider.
But what really made that road so suddenly unsafe for horses?
Was it the increasing urbanisation on that side of town?
Was it the increased speed limit?
The installation of the wire-rope barriers?
It was the fact that horse riders stopped using that road.
Perhaps, just perhaps, as soon as the horses disappeared , drivers took them less and less into consideration. Cars started going faster, the verges got narrower and the barriers went up. The road became all about the cars.
Why Should Horse Riders Subject Themselves to the Dangers of the Road?
On their family cycling trip around Australia, Patrick Jones and Meg Ulman cycled some of the nation’s most dangerous roads. When confronted with the question of why they would choose to subject their children to such dangers, they explained that they were biking the change they wanted to see in the world.
Likewise, the roads will never become safer for horse-riders if we are simply bullied into floats or too scared to stray from our arenas.
The more present and visible that horses become on the road, the more that drivers will begin to anticipate horses. This could hopefully lead to government and local councils being forced to consider and make allowances for horse riders as a result of public demand.
Local Governments Responding to Horse-Riding Road Safety Issues
One heartening real-life example of this is a stretch along the Alpine Way in New South Wales, forming part of the Bicentennial National Trail. In the past, riders and pack animals were forced to pick up the trail by following the shoulder of the busy winding road, no doubt on a wing and a prayer.
However, this didn’t deter horse-trekkers. They plugged away, and after a while, the community noticed what a danger the busy road posed to them. One way or another, a bridle trail was built to run parallel to the road. This is known as ‘The Boardman’s Run’, and there are more riders out there now than ever.
Would the bridle trail would be there today if horses and riders had stopped using the road, cowering back to their floats and back tracks? Probably not.
You see, If we disappear from the roads, it is as good as giving them up.
This doesn’t mean that riders should simply throw caution to the wind, or put themselves or their horses in danger for the sake of politics. After all, we all know who suffers most when car meets horse. There is much preparation, as well as safety strategies that can help keep a horse and rider safe on the highways and byways.
So be seen, be safe, and reclaim those roads!