Horses are powerful animals and have extremely heightened senses. They are also ‘flight’ animals, so if they become scared they will revert to their natural instinct.
If you’re on a country road and approaching a horse from behind, follow the advice of the Institute of Advanced Motorists’ RoadSmart division:
Slow down and hold back. The rider will indicate if it’s safe to approach and overtake. If they don’t, stay at least three car lengths behind and be careful to not move into this space. Be prepared to slow down further or even stop to protect yourself and the horse and rider. Avoid any sudden movements and loud noises such as revving the engine or playing your music loudly. Most riders, and occasionally their horses, will be in hi-vis so you should see them and able to slow down in good time. Remember, in the countryside they could be around any corner. When passing the horse and rider, give plenty of space. We recommend at least a car’s width and ensure it’s done slowly. Remember to always pass “slow and wide” and stick to 15mph or under. Check out this video from the British Horse Society: www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJfZM41oUOE If you’re on a country road and there’s not much room to manoeuvre around the horse, the rider may decide to trot towards the nearest lay by or grass verge. Don’t speed up to match their trot, stay back and allow the rider to get to safety before overtaking. Often when you see two riders it’s for safety reasons. This could be an inexperienced rider or a nervous animal being coached by a more experienced companion. Give them some consideration. Keep an eye out for the rider. They will often give signals asking you to slow down, stop or overtake. They will acknowledge you and help you to pass, but their main priority is keeping themselves and the horse safe so they’ll be trying to keep their hands on the reins at all times. Always accelerate gently to pass the horse and when moving away. Both rider and horse may both be inexperienced and nervous in traffic; do your bit to keep them safe. If there are grass verges, many riders will move themselves up onto them and allow you to pass. Continue to pass slowly as the noise of your engine can still spook the horse.
If a horse is approaching on the other side of the road, slow down completely and consider putting on your hazard warning lights for anyone who may be behind you. You may need to stop to allow the horse to pass you safely if it is safe for you to do so.
From personal experience, it’s not always a car that will spook a horse,” IAM RoadSmart’s Jaimi McIlravey said. “You may be driving safely with enough gap between yourself and a horse and rider, however, something else may scare them, so be sure to stay alert.”