Road Safety

Last Saturday i took my 6 year old daughter for a hack on Mabs the Shetland pony. We donned our various HiViz clothing items and headed out. Now having been involved in some near misses myself i don’t really like taking my daughter out on the road. However every single car we met coming towards us stopped and pulled over, waited patiently until we had passed and then pulled quietly away. The ones approaching from behind slowed right down and kept their distance until waved past, at which point they went slowly by giving us a wide berth.

Now this got me thinking……. why???? why were they so courteous to us? have i found the one road in the country where the other road users do not mind sharing?? or is it because my daughter and Mabs are incredibly cute??? Well it seems there is a method in the madness.

This week i have been researching Road Safety, and in particular what we as riders can do to try and improve it. Now it was very very hard to find much information. The only real source i could find was on the BHS Website, which thankfully is very through and informative. I have to say there are some pretty shocking statistics about accidents on the road involving horses and riders:

Key Statistics

Since November 2010:

  • 2,510 incidents .involving horses on the road have been reported to the BHS
  • 222 horses died at the scene, or as a result of their injuries
  • 38 riders have died

From 2016-2017:

  • 81% of incidents occurred because the driver didn’t allow enough room between their vehicle and the horse
  • 1 in 5 incidents resulted in the car colliding with the horse
  • Almost 40% of riders were subject to road rage or abuse

In 2016, The British Horse Society launched its ‘Dead? Or Dead Slow?’ campaign to encourage drivers to pass horses safely.

Since the campaign launched in 2016, there has been a 29% increase in the number of road incidents reported to the BHS.

The BHS believes the increase is due to more people being aware of the Horse Accidents website and reporting incidents they’ve been involved in. However, it is unacceptable that horse and rider are continuing to die on our roads.

What The BHS has Achieved So Far

• The Dead Slow message has reached more than one million people through social media alone, and has been covered in national, regional and equestrian media

• The BHS teamed up with the Department of Transport to produce a THINK! video that’s been shown on TV and in cinemas

• To finish off 2016, Dead Slow was awarded Driver Education Campaign of the Year by the Driving Instructors Association


Now in Nov 2017 TRL Limited released the findings of a report they have done for the BHS. It makes for very interesting reading:

I have summarised the report very briefly:

There is, unfortunately, very little evidence that directly addresses the issue of visibility and conspicuity of horses on collisions. (Visibility is typically defined as the ease with which an object can be detected when the observer knows its position; conspicuity on the other hand is typically defined as the extent to which something stands out from its background either when people are searching for it (so-called ‘search conspicuity’) or when they are not searching for it but it simply grabs their attention (so called ‘attention conspicuity’) (Langham & Moberly, 2003).

Chapman and Musselwhite (2011) examined the attitudes and reported behaviour of drivers and horse riders through focus groups of both frequent horse riders and drivers with little or no horse riding experience.  However the focus groups also suggested that riders’ clothing and their use of safety equipment can affect the behaviour of other road users.

Drivers in the focus groups acknowledged that a judgement is made regarding the level of control that a rider has over their horse (although this level of control is over-estimated) and that certain factors can affect that judgement; for example a child is usually judged to be less in control and given more space during an overtaking manoeuvre.

However it is not clear whether the wearing of ‘safety clothing’ by riders implies a greater or lower level of control over the horse, and therefore how drivers’ behaviour may be best influenced. There is no legislation governing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) of any kind for riders on highways, except a requirement for children under the age of 14 to wear a helmet (Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders) Act 1990, Section 1).  It is safer not to ride on the road at night or in poor visibility, but if you do, make sure you wear reflective clothing and your horse has reflective bands above the fetlock

There is extremely limited research available that is targeted specifically at the conspicuity or visibility of horse-rider combinations on roads. Three studies of note are to be found in the literature, carried out by the same team of researchers and presented at the annual International Equitation Science conference (Scofield, Savin & Randle, 2013; 2014; 2016). The first two studies were survey-based using questionnaires that were distributed via equine websites and social media in the UK.

In the first of these, Scofield et al (2013) aimed to investigate the relationship between the occurrences of near misses and the use of fluorescent (or reflective) equipment on riders and horses. Since this was questionnaire based, both the near misses and use of equipment were self-reported. 60.3% of riders reported experiencing a near miss with traffic in the previous year. There was no statistically significant relationship between either riders or horses wearing fluorescent materials and the incidence of near misses. However there was a statistically significant relationship between riders wearing lights or not and the incidence of near misses. The research therefore suggested that lights should possibly be recommended when riding on the roads.

The second study (Scofield et al., 2014) aimed to investigate the factors that might affect incidences of near misses. As in the previous study, there was no significant relationship between the wearing of fluorescent equipment and the incidence of near misses. This was true for both horse and rider, and the horse-rider combination. Also as before, riders wearing lights were shown to report significantly fewer incidences of near misses. Horses of broken colour (that is, piebald or skewbald) experienced significantly fewer near misses than horses of block colour.

These two studies therefore suggests two elements that may be worth considering in providing a possible safety advantage when riding on the road network; these are the addition of lights to any equipment worn and the selection of horses of broken colour.

The third study (Scofield et al., 2016) was to determine the effectiveness of two different conspicuity tabards in terms of visual identification time by drivers.  The results showed no statistically significant difference between response times for the fluorescent tabard and the black/white tabard, however there was a significant difference between the times for the black/white tabard and the dark colour, and between the fluorescent tabard and the dark colour, with the dark tabard being associated with longer response times (i.e. slower detection).

This third study indicates that drivers may have a quicker response time when presented with a horse-rider combination wearing either a fluorescent or broken-colour tabard than with a dark colour tabard (or none). These findings would not necessarily be replicated in a live environment, nor would the drivers’ behaviours necessarily change as a result of the quicker identification; however it is possible that such clothing may allow a driver additional time in which to perceive the hazard and respond.

In summary, there appears to be little or no direct evidence regarding the effectiveness of popular conspicuity measures currently used by horse riders . This area is remarkably under investigated and much more research is required. In the absence of much direct evidence, we now turn our attention to applying what is known from studies of detection and judgement of approach in other vulnerable road user groups, such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.



1. Speed limits on roads with significant horse and rider activity should be reduced, and enforced. The optical geometry alone argues that it is unwise to have drivers travelling at 60mph on roads that are routinely and regularly used by horse riders, especially in conditions of reduced lighting.

2. Riders should utilise clothing that contains LED lights wherever feasible. Ideally this should cover as much of the rider and horse as possible, prioritising covering width extent above height. A suggested pattern would be two red LEDs on the shoulders of the rider, and two on the sides of the horse’s flank, all facing backwards. White LEDs facing forwards in a similar pattern would help with frontal approaches.

3. Riders should use bright and reflective safety clothing wherever feasible . Again ideally this should cover as much of the rider and horse as possible, prioritising covering width extent above height, although also on the legs to introduce ‘biological motion’ cues. There is no firm evidence to say one colour is more visible than any other across multiple environments; riders should consider the dominant colours in their riding environment (e.g. coloured foliage and crops, backgrounds associated with sunsets) and choose a colour which will provide contrast accordingly.

In the absence of legislation covering safety equipment for horses, these recommendations are under the control of horse riders and organisations. The prioritisation of lighting over bright clothing (if only one can be used) is commensurate with findings and theory in all these domains.

Clothing should ideally meet standards EN1150 or EN471, and should ideally be kept clean.

This report has been produced by TRL Limited (TRL) under a contract with The British Horse Society. Any views expressed in this report are not necessarily those of The British Horse Society. The information contained herein is the property of TRL Limited and does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the customer for whom this report was prepared. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that the matter presented in this report is relevant, accurate and up-to-date, TRL Limited cannot accept any liability for any error or omission, or reliance on part or all of the content in another context

To summarise

Wear LED clothing – you can buy breastplates ( )and tabbards with LED lights on, and there is a new whip soon to be released (summer 2018) with LED lights on it.

When using HiViz or LED highlight the width of the horse and rider, so place things on the riders shoulders and the horses hips.

There is no legislation covering the use of safety equipment for horses and riders when on the roads.

There has been very little investigation into the effect HiViz clothing has on drivers, and if it affects their response to seeing a horse, along with what type of HiViz might have a greater effect on drivers.

Drivers with little or no experience of horses tend to overestimate the control the rider has.(why they give children a wider berth, as they perceive children as having less control of their mounts)

So what can we do to help ourselves?

Get Involved

They are lots of ways you can get involved with the campaign, such as helping continue to spread the Dead Slow message, so we can reduce the number of road incidents involving horses.

• Share the BHS page and  Dead Slow poster on social media

• Follow the BHS on Facebook and Twitter to keep up-to-date with the campaign and share our message

• Attend Dead Slow events taking place in your region

With an increasing number of reported incidents involving riders and cars, we’re building on our solid foundation of road safety education and campaigning to make drivers aware of what to do when they encounter horses on the road.

Advice for Riders

The Dead Slow message has primarily been aimed at drivers, but there are many things the BHS recommend riders can do to reduce the risk of becoming another statistic.

• Always wear hi-viz clothing and put hi-viz equipment on your horse – even on bright days, it is surprising how well a horse can be camouflaged against a hedge. The Air Ambulance also recommend that riders wear HiViz as it really does help to locate you. Nowadays there are so many styles and colours of HiViz that it is possible to find one you like, and there are also tabards with pockets for mobile phones, perfect for summer hacking when you are not wearing a coat with pockets. LeMieux have also released a new range of reflective saddlecloths, boots, bandages and ear veils. They come in GP and dressage cut and allow you to add safety to your matchy matchy wardrobe too.

• Unless absolutely necessary, the BHS highly recommend you avoid riding in failing light, fog or darkness or when it is snowing or icy

• Show courtesy to drivers – if you show drivers appreciation of their efforts, then drivers should return the favour

• If you are riding a horse that is not used to roads, make sure you are accompanied by an experienced rider and horse

• Concentrate all the time

• Make sure you have told someone where you are going and what time you are expected back.

Report any incidents you are involved in, this one is so important as it will help to gather evidence to go towards improving Road Safety for horse riders, as well as other road users.


The BHS also have leaflets you can download and print out to put up in your local area.

Have a look at the BHS website for more information

To read the full report Google TRL Report for BHS and the PDF document will come up.

I hope this blog has been helpful for you all. Happy Hacking.


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