I accidentally de-railed Horse Hour last week by throwing the spanner of holidays into a discussion on hi-vis safety wear, so this is my attempt to make up for it!
It’s a long time since I’ve regularly hacked out in the UK, so this hasn’t recently been an issue for me, but I’ve followed the stories relating to “Polite” gear and other hot topics closely. When I was hacking out frequently, we were far from angels in terms of wearing clothing which would make us visible, throwing tabards on if we were told to, or remembered (in our defence, we were only children, and our main concerns were putting helmets on and tightening our girths). As an adult who has a driving licence as well as a long-term history with horses, I’d now think differently.
What always shocked me as a child – and continues to do so now – is how few road users are prepared for the eventuality of meeting a horse and rider on the roads. In my experience, even those who live in rural or semi-rural areas do not know how to react when coming across a horse. It often feels like they aren’t aware that horses are sentient beings, that the size of the animal causes people to be confused: “Hmm… I see something. A something with a person. Something is being ridden, so it must be a vehicle rather than an animal, because people don’t ride cats and dogs, and don’t keep cows as animals to ride. I can just treat this as I would any other road user!”
I appreciate that not everyone is fortunate enough or wishes to have experience with horses, but I also think that the paltry advice offered by the Highway Code (though it is more than the minimal amount given by many driving instructors) doesn’t really convey what riders would like drivers to know.
My message to other road users is this: what we are sat on is both sensitive and unpredictable. The way in which we use the road may inconvenience you for a few moments, but we are doing it for a reason – please bear with us. Try to put yourself in our place – if you are struggling to do so, here’s a piece on how it sometimes feels to be sat atop a loose cannon. We are trying to enjoy an activity just as much as you are.
Riders, this is what I would like to say to you: be the bigger person. Be respectful, be polite, court the behaviour you would like to see. Make sure you are as safe as possible – tell others where you are going and roughly how long you will be. Have contact details and ID somewhere about your person, particularly if you are out alone. Hi-vis gear should be worn even when it’s not dark (in fact, the rule of thumb is that fluorescent gear is for daylight riding, reflective is for riding in the dark), and also isn’t limited to riding on the roads (hopefully you won’t fall off when riding alone in the countryside, but if you do, it will make it much easier for you to be found).
As I have said many times before and will continue to do so until everyone listens – safety is paramount. Wearing a fluorescent tabard won’t prevent you from having fun; getting hurt because another road user hasn’t seen you will.