Safer Cycling Around Horses

It’s not just us that are out on the trails so its worth bearing in mind the best way to act around other users;  while most walkers can be dealt with by smiling and being polite, encountering horses does requite a little more thought. A while back we got together with Hallam Riders Group  to discuss how best to improve relations between mountain bikers and horse riders out on the trails and came up with a few hints and tips for those horsey encounters.

So here is a bit of background as well as a few hints and tips that you might find handy when you come across horses out on the trails

  • Horses ridden or led have absolute priority over all other users on bridleways
  • Horses are ‘prey animals’, although they are trained to be ridden their natural defence is flight from something frightening. It is important not to trigger that response. Even more so as horses have good memories, so one bad incident can cause trouble in future
  • It can be considered an offence to cause distress to animals (this is part of the ‘Animals Act’
  • Mountain Bikers (and other cyclists) look very strange to horses, the movement of the bike and the rider, light catching the bike and particularly the noises made by them are quite alien to them and can contribute to the stress to the animal. This is intensified if the trail is more enclosed.
  • However if a horse can get a ‘good look’ at the bicycle, if the biker allows the horse a little space and time there is an excellent chance that the horse will accept them happily and do so more easily in future

Five top tips

    1. Please call out, well in advance of approaching any horse from either direction, so that the horse hears a human voice. This is very reassuring, all ridden horses know about voices and any greeting is better than none (though friendly is better!)
    2. Always slow right down for horses and give them as much physical space as possible. This is reassuring for them and keep s you safe if they are startled
    3. Don’t touch the horse unless you are certain that both the horse and rider want you too. Horses like to be stroked, but unexpected contact can misinterpreted as attack, so prioritise safety
    4. Be prepared to stop if a rider asks you. When horses are alarmed it is always safer to keep your bike as still as you can, preferably speaking aloud and let the horse walk past you. If you continue to advance on a scared horse, it is likely to bolt, increasing the risk to everyone.
    5. Flashing lights, particularly when placed on helmets are intimidating and distressing for all animals. So be aware of this both on and off-road. Also be aware of this if you are passing through livestock


As well as encountering horses out on your rides there is also a good chance you will come across livestock too (particularly at certain times of year). This is something that has been a bit of a newsworthy item after a couple of high-profile trampling’s and has meant that landowners and farmers are coming under increased pressure over rights of way. So there is potential to lose (or not gain) rights of way if we are seen or perceived to be causing a disturbance.

Presence of livestock depending on your route might need to be a consideration particularly during spring, when pregnant and birthing animals are increasingly sensitive. Just use your common sense and you should be fine

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