How to drive near horses

Hi, my name's Alan. I work for the British Horse Society and we're running a campaign called Dead Slow, which is aimed at getting people to slow right down while they're driving near horses. 

I’m sure you’ve heard all this before, but I thought it might help if I told you something about the way horses think, and what can happen when you drive past these beautiful, sensitive animals.

Three brains

When you approach a horse on the road, what are you thinking? Are you considering the three brains working here? Have a guess at whose brains I’m talking about.

Yep – there’s yours, the rider’s and the horse’s. Three brains, all probably thinking different thoughts, and any one of them could come up with something that puts you all in danger.

You’re probably familiar with how the rider thinks, because they’re human like you, so let’s look at how the horse will be thinking.

I’m a runner, not a fighter

As you approach, that horse’s brain will be working to a risk assessment that’s thousands of years old. They’re flight animals – which means they’re more likely to run away from danger than fight it – and they work on the messages they receive from their surroundings. These messages are considered in the horse’s brain for a fraction of a second.

So, your car approaches the horse too fast. If it’s behind them, then the car is in their blind spot, but they’ll hear it. From the front, they see a large object moving towards them at speed. Either way, your car will be considered a threat to the horse.

Horsey risk assessment

This is where the horse’s risk assessment kicks in. In that split second, it’ll consider these options:

  • Accept the risk, because of the training it’s had and the confidence it has in the rider. The rider has the horse’s attention, respect and trust
  • Try to remove the risk by kicking the car
  • Try to reduce the risk by kicking out and running off in the opposite direction
  • Try to avoid the risk by moving quickly to one side.

Of course, as you approach, you don’t know which of these actions the horse will take. And, to complicate the situation, there are probably lots of other things the horse is picking up and processing at the same time: maybe a bird flies out of the hedge – more information for the horse to act on.

‘Dead Slow’ advice

In the past five years, 38 riders and 212 horses have been killed on UK roads – 75% of them because a vehicle passed too fast and too close to the horse.

Now you know the stats, and understand that the ‘third brain’ in the equation can be so unpredictable, doesn’t it make sense to follow the Dead Slow advice?

  • When you see a horse, slow down to a maximum of 15 mph.
  • Be patient. Don’t sound your horn or rev your engine.
  • Pass the horse wide and slow.
  • Drive away slowly.

We can never know for certain what the horse is thinking, so do your own risk assessment. A horse is a large, powerful and very quick animal. Following these rules when you meet one on the road will drastically reduce the risk of anyone getting hurt – man or beast.

Dead Slow? Good choice.

Read more about the Dead Slow campaign here on the British Horse Society website.