The first thing to remember is a horse, just like any other animal, can behave unpredictably. Just because a horse is walking along the road calmly, do not assume they will remain calm no matter what you, the cyclist, does. Horses are not machines, but an animal, and therefore their riders can never guarantee how they’re going to behave or respond to an incident. If the horse/pony feels threatened, their natural ‘wild’ instincts could take over.
So on seeing a horse and rider, first of all slow down and make sure they know you’re there, then pass them on the outside giving them plenty of room (the British Horse Society advises ‘keeping a car’s width when passing’, see below).
Remember, you may think there’s room to pass but ask yourself if you’ve allowed enough room should the horse spin, kick out, rear, jump sideways, bolt or rush backwards. If the answer’s no, you need to allow more room. Horses are prey animals whose immediate response, when faced with danger, is to flight.
Watch out for arm signals
If a rider signals to you to slow down, by waving their arm up and down, or stop, do so and don’t assume that you know best and have a handle on the situation; you don’t and there may be something up ahead that’s going to spook the horse and put them in your path.
Also wait until you’re safely past before accelerating.
The British Horse Society’s recommendations:
Alert the horse and rider to your presence.
The horse and rider may not see or hear you approach from behind, so calling out ‘hello’ as soon as you are within calling distance is important to prevent the horse being startled.
Give the horse and rider time to react. If a horse is frightened by your presence, please stop, and give the rider a chance to calm the horse and move out of your way before you ride off again. A horse rider may also attempt to move forward into a wider space in order to let you pass – help them to do so by slowing your speed and keeping back a safe distance.
If you’re taking part in a cycling event, your concern will be to pass a horse as quickly as possible, but please remember to: Slow down and call out; Pass wide and slow on the outside when safe to do so – do not ride between the horse and the verge; Leave a car’s width between you and the horse when you pass.
You can download the British Horse Society’s leaflet for cyclists here