The issue of how cyclists should overtake horses safely became a cause célèbre in 2018 when footage emerged of participants in the Windsor Triathlon passing an equestrian at speed, one hitting her and her horse as he passed on the inside.
The vast majority of comments on social media were supportive of the horse rider and critical of the cyclists, so it's worth taking a refresher on not only what the Highway Code says about overtaking horses, but also to look at what is considered best practice.
Many people reacting to the story have pointed out that like cyclists, horse riders too are considered vulnerable road users, a point reinforced by the British Horse Society (BHS) in a leaflet it issued in 2016 entitled Code of Conduct for Horse Riders and Cyclists, which is also endorsed by British Cycling.
The Code aims to provide “guidelines to ensure equestrians and cyclists co-exist harmoniously and safely when in close proximity,” with the BHS saying “There is room for everyone to enjoy riding out. Equestrians and cyclists are vulnerable road users. We share similar risks when riding on the road.”
While much of the document is specific to riding off-road, for example on bridleways, much of the advice given applies equally to the road, and some is specific to it.
“A horse is a friend and companion to the person who cares for him – to them he is priceless,” the BHS says. “However, while a cycle may not be a living animal, it has still cost the owner a great deal of money to buy and maintain,” it continues.
“A horse is unlikely to see or hear you, especially if you are approaching quietly from behind,” the BHS says. “Calling out ‘hello’ for walkers or equestrians is welcome and important in alerting horses and riders that you are there.
“Try not to get too close before you call out or you will startle both horse and rider. If possible, ask the horse rider if it is safe to pass before attempting to go by and call again if they haven’t heard you.
“If you decide to stand to the side of the path to allow equestrians to pass you, it is a good idea to make sure that the horse can still see you as it approaches, that way it will not be frightened when it suddenly spots you at the side of the track or road.
“If the horse you meet has been frightened by your presence, give the rider a chance to calm the horse and move out of your way before you move off again. Please don’t be annoyed if a horse rider doesn’t appear to acknowledge your kindness and consideration. They do appreciate your help but may be concentrating on controlling and calming their horse to avoid falling off.”
More often than not, it will be one cyclist passing one horse rider, but two sections are particularly relevant to Sunday’s events.
The first highlights the need to cyclists to slow down while taking part in an event. It says: “If you are taking part in a cycling event, your concern will be to get by as quickly as possible, but please pass slowly with consideration and let riders know you are coming through.
“A speeding cyclist coming out of the blue may startle some horses and a group of speeding cyclists is even more likely to do so – take great care and if it is obvious you need to stop, then please do so; it may save a serious incident.
“Please heed a rider or carriage driver’s request to slow down or stop for the safety of all involved. Equestrians may be attempting to get out of your way into a safe place in order to let you pass – help them to do so by adjusting your speed and keeping a safe distance from them.”
The other reinforces the need to give horses a lot of room when overtaking them – and to do so on the right.
“Most horses are used to traffic passing them on the right so pass them as you would anyone else; don’t cut inside, and allow plenty of room in case the horse is surprised or startled,” the BHS says.
“Riders may need to ride two abreast for safety, particularly when escorting a young or inexperienced horse or rider – please give them a chance to sort themselves out before you go by.”
The BHS also addresses advice specifically to horse riders, including that “If you are riding on the road, be aware of any signs that might indicate a cycle race is taking place and heed warnings from any race marshal who might advise you of approaching cyclists,” and advising riders to check with British Cycling and Cycling Time Trials, as well as with local clubs, about any events that may be taken place.
The Windsor Triathlon was organised by Human Race under the supervision of British Triathlon, and one criticism levelled at the company by the horse rider concerned was that she had seen no signs warning her that the event was taking place.
But organisers, who are in contact with the rider, said: “Various measures were put in place to mitigate the chance of an incident of this nature, including the erection of advance warning signs about the event, the plans for which were drawn up by a professional traffic management company, this signage was put up along the route on Thursday 7 June [ten days before the event].
“Additional cycle event signage was also installed a day in advance of the event to bolster awareness for all road users. We are reviewing all signage & communication plans as part of our internal review exercise following this incident.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.