Road Riding

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This rider is doing everything right! This rider is doing everything right!

Getting safely from A to B....

If you ride regularly, then you’ll probably find yourself riding on roads and among traffic at some stage. In Victoria (where I live), you can get your Learner’s Permit once you’ve turned 16, and can go for your Probationary Driver’s Licence when you turn 18. But anyone can ride a horse on the road, regardless of age, so it pays to know a few road rules and safety tips!

Did you know that horses ridden on roads are considered ‘vehicles’? It’s only after the rider has dismounted that he or she is considered a pedestrian and the horse an animal.

Horses are allowed to be ridden on all roads unless there’s a sign indicating otherwise, for example most freeways and tollways have signs stating “no pedestrians, bicycles or animals beyond this point”

As horses are slower than cars, you must ride as close as possible to the left-hand side of the road and travel in the same direction as the traffic.

Unlike cars, a horse and rider is allowed to travel on footpaths and nature strips unless the local Council has laws against it. A word of warning though, some pedestrians and home owners might object!

As a an official ‘vehicle’ on the road, you’re not allowed to ride on median strips, nor go across traffic islands or roundabouts.

The rules at roundabouts are the same as for cars...always give way to your right and if it’s a double-lane roundabout and as the slower moving vehicle, keep as far to the left as possible.

Do you know you’re supposed to give hand signals? might know where you’re going (and feel like a dork having to signal) but drivers will appreciate being given some indication! If turning left, hold your left arm out straight at shoulder level and vice versa for right-hand turns. If stopping, lift your arm up into an L-shape.

If you’re riding along a two way road (one lane going either way) you MUST ride single file. You can only ride two abreast if there’s more than one lane, but you should keep within 1.5 metres of each other.

And guess what? You’re not legally allowed to use your mobile phone or send text messages while riding along roads! If you get a call or want to make one, you need to pull off the road or dismount to take the call.

You're not legally allowed to use your mobile or send text messages while riding along roads!

Unlike vehicle drivers, there’s no age limit for riders on roads, but they should be fairly experienced. Remember you’ll be in traffic with drivers who won’t have a clue about horses, let alone how unpredictable they can be and may drive too close, or be impatient to pass you, tooting their horn. Resist the Road Rage quote my old driving instructor, “Imagine that every other driver on the road is an idiot.”

Ride defensively with your eyes and ears open, don’t get lost in a daydream. It’s inevitable that sooner or later some hoon will try to stir your horse by revving his engine or tooting the read about this happening to riders all the time on internet forums. This is a good reason why you should avoid taking youngsters or skittish horses on the road. It’s just not worth the risk. On the other hand, most drivers are considerate and will give you space...when they do, acknowledge their courtesy with a friendly wave.

If your horse shies or starts playing up, GET OFF IMMEDIATELY. Always play it safe rather than battle it out with cars and trucks whizzing by.

Trucks with flapping plastic represent a dangerous predator to your horse. Remember his vision is superior to ours, he can see to the side which means he sees vehicles approaching from the rear long before we can. Horse shoes are also slippery on concrete and it’s an accident waiting to happen.

It’s compulsory to wear an Australian Standard approved helmet when riding. It must be a one specifically designed for horse riding–bicycle; motorbike helmets are designed differently and they are not interchangeable.

If just leading your horse, you’re considered a regular pedestrian and it’s okay to lead horses on the road provided they don’t cause a traffic hazard and you stick to the left as closely as possible.

As for traffic lights and intersections, you need to obey regular road rules by stopping at red lights, giving way at stop signs and roundabouts etc (don’t forget to give clear hand signals). A lot of riders use pedestrian traffic lights, or push the button at intersection lights while still mounted but this isn’t recommended...traffic is too unpredictable!

Riding at night is not advised as you will be almost invisible to motorists, especially if you have a dark horse. By law you don’t need to have any form of lighting on your horse, but there are some safety items available for night riding, including reflective vests, quartersheets and bandages.

Remember the slogan...’Be Seen, BE SAFE’.

Riding on the road is often unavoidable when we need to get from A to B, but with some common sense and a good knowledge of the road rules, you’ll maximise your chances of arriving safely!


Be aware of the traffic around you. Drivers have the benefit of rear-view don’t, so keep checking traffic status behind you, especially if you’re changing direction.

Avoid riding on the roads at dusk and at night as you will be almost invisible to drivers. Invest in some reflective clothing/horse safety gear.

Don’t ride on the road if your horse seems unsettled (this especially applies on windy days).

Don’t canter on bitumen or not only jars your horse’s legs, it can be very slippery.

Don’t ride too close to any vehicle, even parked cars in case a driver suddenly starts the engine or opens the door, startling your horse.

If your horse shies, dismount and lead him past the feared object. DO NOT force a battle on the road!

Always ride in the same direction as the traffic is flowing and give clear hand signals.

Make eye contact with drivers when changing direction, this way you can check they’ve seen you and will slow down.

If in doubt, DON’T! This means if there’s a gap in the traffic and you’re not sure you’ll make it through, DON’T GO. Wait until there’s a safer gap.

Don’t be in too much of a hurry. Don’t compromise safety for the sake of saving a few seconds.

Vicki Sach–Top Horse
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