One of the most common complaints motorcyclists have about horses is that “if your horse is not safe on the road you should not be riding it”, but that holds no water in law if you were to have an incident with one.

The basic legal rules are simple and the Highway Code is clear. Vehicles must pass horses slowly and give them plenty of room. If there are two horses riding side by side this is not equestrians trying to block your path, as the Highway Code observes the horse on the inside may well have a novice rider on the back of a nervous horse, and usually the more stable and experienced horse will be on the outside.

Secondly, saying that they should not be on the road will get you nowhere apart from up a judge’s nose. Horses are entitled to use the road and you must accommodate them like any other vulnerable road user. In much the same way as you would not pass closely to a wobbly child on a bicycle, give horses room and patience. Bear in mind that witnesses to any accident are likely to be rather less friendly to you than to a teenage girl on a horse.

No single user of a byway has priority. The law presumes we will all rub along together with each of us accommodating the other. Whilst not ‘Law’, I have found that following the TRF (Trail Riders Fellowship) guidance of killing your engine and letting the horse pass you is really good practice and a pretty solid defence to a claim in negligence. I certainly think that it could easily be construed as an aggravating factor and negligence on your part if there was a horse obviously in panic and you didn’t kill your engine.

I even carry a few horse treats with me for times when the horse might need a bit of coaxing past me. Horse riders in the main, are genuinely grateful for this. Whilst riding on the by-ways try and be an ambassador for what we do.

What do you do about the stubborn equestrian who insists on riding at walking pace for the entire length of a byway and not letting you past? The law offers little guidance so we fall back to what is reasonable. The equestrian should not obstruct a byway, and you as a motorcyclist should be travelling at a speed that allows you to safely pull over on a public access byway where your presence might be unexpected.

The temptation might be to go past the equestrian, without being waved by, but this is unwise. They are under no obligation to let you past, so long as they do not stop and actively obstruct your way. You, however, are entitled as a matter of common law to properly use the byway, so the law offers no real solution. Practicality says that getting involved in a trial of strength with half a tonne of horse is not a good idea. So even if an equestrian is stubbornly walking their horse in your way, which does happen, my firm advice is to avoid confrontation or close proximity.

While there is no decided law on this point Judges tend to revert to first principles of law, and it is my opinion that the law will find that you have complete control of your motorcycle, and the equestrian does not have similar control of their horse. The law will expect you to be the one to accommodate the equestrian and I suspect most judges will find a motorcyclist passing a horse in close proximity on a byway primarily liable for any harm caused. If you wrongly contribute to a situation which results in your own injury your damages will be reduced. But the general rule stands. Be nice to each other on the byways and life is better for us all.

Andrew Dalton

Adventure Bike Rider
December 2016