The riders were, without fail, gracious and grateful that we had adopted the good manners and courtesy that goes with sharing the lanes. We stopped for a chat and a bit of banter, and then we all went about our day.

Later, however, in the town of Lambourn, some half-witted jockey riding a thoroughbred on an ordinary tarmac road decided it was a good idea to shout at us. Even after our lead bike rider had raised his hand to stop the rest of us and we had all killed our engines. Perhaps he was showing off to his young, female apprentice jockeys. Who knows?

One of the lads I was riding with asked me to address the matter of horses and the law in this column. Had he confronted the gobby jockey and the horse had reared up, who’d have been to blame? Sadly, probably the motorcyclist. Also, half a tonne of spooked horse with iron-shod hooves, already wound up by his rider, is a dangerous proposition at close quarters.

On the byways, where motorcycles are not traditionally expected, the duty of care incumbent on a motorcyclist is to ride with the prudence that the situation demands. There is no ‘standard’ of riding as such. It is wholly dependent upon the circumstances.

As a matter of law, very few byways are signed and regulated for speed, so whilst not technically speeding, riding a byway at 60mph would certainly be considered dangerous and would result in a much heavier punishment than a speeding ticket. Likewise, charging up to a horse, ‘braaping’ away and passing too close would most certainly be considered dangerous and if the horse reacted in a way that killed or seriously injured the rider, you’d be going to prison.

Simple principles apply and common sense and the law helpfully cross over. Ride so that you can pull up safely for any realistically foreseeable hazard, bearing in mind that you may be riding on a loose or slippery surface, and ride with consideration – the chances are you’ll be within the law. There is an offence of inconsiderate driving, so be aware that just being a bit of dick can get you into bother with the law, and many equestrians now wear bodycams.

There is a difference in law between horse riders, cyclists and walkers. They use the highway by right. They do not need a license. You, as a motorcyclist, do. They have an inalienable right to use their unlicensed mode of travel. You can be banned. They have no compulsion to carry road traffic insurance, but you do. There is little in the way of reported case law on interactions between motorcyclists and equestrians when it all goes wrong, so the common law of England resorts to first principles of pragmatism and the law of negligence.

A motorcyclist is dealing with a machine that (well, usually at least) responds to rider inputs in a predictable way. Horses are flight animals that have a very limited range of responses, which seem to boil down to panic and rocking from side to side in the same place, rearing up, legging it or biting. I have spent a lot of time around horses. They are fascinating creatures. A squeeze from a leg or a gentle input to a 500kg animal can get a horse to do amazing things. But the part of the horse’s brain that deals with thinking and problem solving is almost completely absent.

They are animals that run on a mix of instinct and trust in their rider. They are not giant dogs and the riders know a hell of a lot more about their horses than you ever will, so if an equestrian asks you to do something, go with it. You, as a motorcyclist, start off on the back foot in law with an equestrian because you have to have a license, insurance and you have complete control over your machine.

I have had horses bolt away from me despite my killing the engine and keeping my distance. In order for an equestrian to bring any sort of claim against you, they would have to show that you had done something negligent.

It is common knowledge, and within the Highway Code, that you should be “particularly careful of horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles especially when approaching, overtaking, passing or moving away. Always pass wide and slowly. When you see a horse on a road, you should slow down to a maximum of 10mph. Be patient, do not sound your horn or rev your engine. When safe to do so, pass wide and slow, allowing at least two metres of space”. Do that, and you will not be viewed as negligent but, as we all know, if we share the byways considerately, they are a much more pleasant place to be.

Andrew Dalton

Trail – The Trail Riders Fellowship Members’ Magazine – Winter 2022