In many countries a horse being ridden on the road has the same rights as other motorists. In New Zealand, horse riders are not obliged to ride on the verge or pull over for vehicles and they may ride two abreast, but they must not unduly obstruct vehicles or ride in a way that endangers other road users.
Not all riders will be fully conversant with the Road Code, and younger riders who have never driven before may find traffic intimidating and might not understand the dangers. NZTA (New Zealand Transport Agency) publishes some basic guidelines for horse riders here, and we published a more comprehensive guide to taking your horse on the road here.
Give horses plenty of room
As you can see in the image below, the horse rider is aware that the car is coming and has stopped on the side of the road. The car driver has slowed down and has moved over to the right as far as possible. Not all riders will stop, and they are not obliged to.
Don’t assume that the horse and rider have seen you unless the rider acknowledges you. Modern cars (particularly hybrids) can be very quiet, so you might not be noticed until the last minute, especially if there’s a large amount of ambient noise from farm machinery or the wind.
As a driver, you won’t know the rider’s experience or the horse’s previous exposure on the road. The rider may be familiarising the horse with road traffic and therefore it could be skittish and nervous. The rider might hold their arm out and move their hand up and down to signal you to slow down. If the rider shows a raised hand, this means you should stop.
If you are overtaking a horse pulling a cart or sulky, make sure you can overtake safely and within the law. If there’s a solid yellow line in the centre of the road, then you must not cross this line when you overtake.
As you will frequently encounter horses on quieter unlaned roads, you must abide by the Road Code which states that you must be able to stop in half the distance of clear road you can see in front of you. If it’s a laned road, then you must be able to stop in the clear distance you can see in front of you.
As you can see from the image below, horses can take up a good part of the left lane. The horse will be going relatively slower than your vehicle, so if you round the corner too fast, and there’s another vehicle coming in the other direction, there might not be enough room. How will you stop?
The British Horse Society recommends a speed of no more than 25kph when passing a horse, but this can sometimes be too much if you have a loud vehicle. Remember to turn your stereo down and if you have a vehicle with a modified exhaust, take it easy when you accelerate away. Never use your horn when overtaking a horse.
Areas where horses are commonly ridden often have signs.
Take care, especially if there are signposted equestrian grounds or arenas nearby, or if you see the tell-tale signs of horses on the road.