Not so long-ago, I was out hacking with my horse on our local roads, when a van and trailer sped up behind us at a startling pace. The driver appeared to have decided that the best thing that he could do now, was to beep his horn and flash his lights, repetitively at me! I kid you not! His careless actions led to my horse dancing further out into the road in panic. This dangerous looking scene, would surely now prompt the driver to think sensibly and slow down! Right? Wrong! Strangely enough, he did not! Instead, this lovely gentleman, thought it would be great crack to swiftly roll down his window, shout a string of abuse at me, and then attempt to over-take me and my dancing horse. While his van just about made it past us, his trailer swung by us and scraped along my boot and stirrup. I screamed, this was way too close for comfort. He sped off as I attempted to calm my horse. Just when I had settled him and got back on track, I heard a revving engine. The driver had turned around and was headed straight for us! Trying desperately to run us off the road. My horse was frantic, oozing sweat and fearfully striking out at the van’s tires. My foot and whip had many bashings along the roof of his van. Thanks to an oncoming car, the van driver gave up his pursuit of us.
While this experience was completely nerve wracking, we both walked away relatively unharmed. My boot wasn’t so lucky and my horse arrived home with only 3 shoes. My whip never made it home at all. All I could think about was what if! What if I couldn’t control my horse that day? What if I came off? What if that driver treated other riders he met on the road to the same joys!? And what if their outcome was not as lucky as mine had been. I then thought, how many other happy hackers actually experienced anything similar?
And why is it, that some motorists can be so unwilling to share the roads with horses?
These questions led me to the RSA’s website. I wanted to get some statistics on whether or not it was common for riders to experience prejudiced behaviour out on the roads. However, when I went on their website, I had to specifically search the word “horse” before I got any relevant information. The little information I did eventually fall upon, was limited and targeted more so at the horse rider and not at educating the driver. I chose to contact the RSA and The Garda Mounted Support Unit to establish if there were any plans for improving road safety for horse riders. I haven’t yet received a response from either party, but it seems unlikely that there are any plans in the pipework.
Feeling somewhat disappointed, I decided to create a survey, a survey to help me gauge how many other riders in Ireland had similar experiences to mine. Over 200 riders kindly took part.
The survey revealed some horrendous accounts of equestrian vs motorists. But one of the most shocking results of my survey, was discovering that 100% of the riders who took part, feel unsafe while out hacking, due to a recent negative encounter with motorists.
Something has to change. Riders have the right to feel safe and should be safe while out hacking. Even if only as safe as cyclists, it would be a start in the right direction. But in the meantime, the responsibility seems to be solely with riders, to keep ourselves safe.
While educating myself further on road safety I stumbled across these useful tools that aid safe hacking:
- Equilab Safety Tracking – This is a feature of the Equilab app which allows you to share your hacking route and location with friends and family when hacking alone.
- Tocsen Smart Crash Sensor – A discreet monitoring disc that alerts emergency services if you have a fall from your horse.
- Go Pro cameras – A small camera that can be fitted to your helmet to record your ride.
But I believe, that the best way to ensure safer hacking, is by lobbying for change. You can do this by contacting your local county council and requesting for them to put ‘Accompanied horses and ponies’ road signs along your hacking routes. Petitioning for reduced speed limits on rural roads. Reaching out to governing bodies such as HSI to work on sourcing safe off-road hacking/bridlepaths. Or leaving feedback on the RSA’s website in relation to educating other road users, on how to share the roads safely with horse riders.
For all your local county council contact details, check out @hackhomesafe and the #HackHomeSafe hashtag on Instagram. I recently created this account to spread informative content surrounding equestrian road users, with the hope of broadening the audience to not just equestrians, but to all road users.