Almost any driver will tell you that when you see a school bus with lights flashing you must stop and wait. But what is your responsibility as a driver when you see a horse and rider on the road? Most riders will actively avoid riding on the road, when possible. However, it is legal and often necessary to ride on or across main and side roads in order to reach many of the trail riding areas in town.
To increase awareness of the little known motor vehicle law, the Granby Horse Council is hosting a community event—Share the Road. On Saturday, June 9, (June 10 rain date) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., join Horse Council members at Salmon Brook Park for the premier Share the Road event. Come and meet horses, enjoy pony rides and learn about horse safety on the road. This event has been inspired by one held in several towns in western Massachusetts for the past six years.
Television and the movies present horses as calm, brave and easy to control. Every rider appears experienced and able to manage every horse they mount. In reality, both rider and horse may be inexperienced and nervous, especially on the road and in traffic. Horses are “flight” animals, which means that when something startles or frightens them, their natural response is to move away from the fearful object as quickly as possible. A startled horse may jump, run, or rapidly move into or away from whatever surprised them, including into the path of a car. Even experienced riders on well-behaved horses may be challenged in this type of situation. This can be dangerous for the horse, the rider, and others in the area.
Horses can be unpredictable and often react to things suddenly appearing in their line of vision and to loud sounds. When you are walking, jogging or riding a bike, and if you are moving toward a horse, calmly say something as you approach. This gives the horse the information it needs to know you are approaching.
So, when you meet a horse on the road what should you do? The good news is, in the state of Connecticut (and nearby Massachusetts) motor vehicle laws give guidance about how to respond in this situation. Exercise due care by:
First, look for and follow any signals from the rider such as the direction to slow down (by waving one hand palm down) or stop (by holding one hand palm towards you).
Pass wide and pass slowly.
Avoid any actions likely to spook a horse, such as revving your engine, honking your horn, or shouting out the window.
Accelerate gently only after you have passed the horse.
While most riders like to acknowledge considerate driving and a safe pass, remember their top priority is to keep their hands on the reins and maintain control of the horse. However, know that every rider truly appreciates the considerate driver who keeps everyone’s safety in mind.
If you are unfamiliar with horses, when approaching them, remember to ask permission of the handler and get direction for the safest way to approach. Seeing a horse can be exciting, for both you and the horse. While horses are curious, many horses startle easily. The person riding or leading the horse will tell you the best way to interact with the animal for your safety and theirs.