Cycling on country roads in the Wairarapa, I occasionally encounter people on horseback. I’m always aware of the risk that a horse will be spooked in these situations, but I’ve never been entirely sure how best to avoid it.
When cyclist and rider are approaching each other, horse and rider can see you coming and have time to react. Common sense dictates that you slow down and allow the horse plenty of room (i.e. move to the other side of the road if possible). But what if you’re approaching from behind and neither horse nor rider knows you’re there?
That happened to me this morning on a quiet country road west of Masterton. I’d exchanged greetings with the female rider on the outward leg of my ride (it’s a dead-end road) and encountered them again from behind as I was riding back home.
I adopted the same approach as usual, slowing right down and moving to the far side of the road. But the horse was spooked when it saw me out of the corner of its eye and the rider got a fright too. It took her a moment or two to get her mount back under control.
I apologised and explained that I would have called out as I approached, except that I thought the sudden sound of a voice might be enough in itself to startle a horse. But she said that’s what I should do in future, so I will.
I’ve since found this advice from Cycling UK and the British Horse Society, which only last year launched a joint campaign dealing with this issue:
Horses can react quickly when startled, so cyclists should drop their pace and call out a greeting, giving the horse and rider time to react before overtaking wide and slow. By alerting the rider and horse to their presence, cyclists run less risk of the horse reacting, and reduce the risk of injury - not just to the rider and their horse, but also themselves.
I pass on this advice for the benefit of other bike riders who might find themselves in a similar situation. Fortunately the rider I met this morning appeared to be experienced and in control of her horse. The outcome could have been different had it been a novice.