According to the police, there were 133 recorded horse rider casualties in 2011, including four fatalities. There are, of course, likely to have been many incidents that were not recorded. The British Horse Society estimates (horseaccidents.org.uk) that there are about 3,000 incidents per annum. The Highway Code, rules 49 to 55, provides advice for using horses on the road.
All road users owe a duty to take reasonable care to avoid causing damage to others on the highway. Road users should understand the particular vulnerability of riders and horses and behave courteously towards them at all times. Horses have the potential to be easily spooked by other road users and can potentially pose a risk to other road users, as well as to the horse and rider. Horses are easily frightened by cycles. A frightened horse can be a serious hazard on the highway.
Give an appropriate greeting before you attempt to overtake, particularly if the road is narrow. Listen out for any instruction from the rider and follow what they say. When overtaking, give the horse plenty of room and proceed slowly. It is better to wait for oncoming traffic to pass than to be forced too close to a horse. Do not do anything that is likely to startle the horse, such as shouting loudly or using a bell or horn. In rural areas, there is a risk of colliding with horses, particularly on winding country roads when negotiating blind corners.
If a horse is spooked by the actions of a cyclist and causes injury or damage, or if a cyclist collides with a horse, then there is the potential that the cyclist could be subject to a civil claim for any injury or loss caused (or even the sanctions of the criminal law). It is important that all cyclists have third-party liability insurance. Membership of the CTC provides the valuable benefit of £10m of third-party indemnity cover.
Paul Kitson, Partner from Slater & Gordon (UK) LLP
This was first published in the August/September 2015 edition of CTC's Cycle magazine.