- By Softeis - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=178248

The Debate: Should Horses be Banned from Public Roads?

Controversial I know, but please hear me out.

20w ago

Now before we get into this, I want to make one thing absolutely clear. I DON'T hate horses. In fact throughout my 43 circular trips around our solar system, I don't actually recall ever coming into conflict with a horse. I have some sympathy for horses, being forced to clip-clop along hard tarmacadam roads at a snails pace whilst their riders sit there, texting or gossiping or shaking their fists and yelling at drivers - does NOT look fun for the horses. A caveat is that to me it doesn't actually look much fun for the riders either.

Hang on a minute, where is all this coming from?

Okay, here's the story. One day I was crawling through the narrow, pot-holed and chossed up streets of the village where I live at around 20 miles an hour. As I came into a short stretch of open road between the last houses in the village and the village hall, a stretch that has no objective right to be a 30 zone beyond the fact that it's a short stretch and so paying for two 40 mph signs might seem like a waste of money, I opened up the taps. I was in second gear and sped up to 30 quite rapidly, then eased off. As I rounded the corner before the village hall I noticed some jodhpur-wearing, jolly hockey sticks, equestrian type getting ready to lead her animal into the road. So I slowed down further. I passed her at less than 30, I know this because when she frantically yelled 'Slow down' at me, I instinctively checked my speedometer. Personally, if I'd wanted driving advice from her - I'd have booked a lesson. However, I'll be honest - I will ALWAYS be suspicious about the driving sense of a person whose preferred method of transport is literally ONE horse power and the exhaust product smells like a wrestler's armpit, but is good to put on the garden. Anyway, I digress. I almost stopped the car to have words with said equestrian type, but in my experience they tend to err on the side of being self-important idiots with no consideration for any road users other than other horse riders. So I didn't, I just drove on. I suppose in her defence I DO have quite a loud exhaust and might have sounded like I was going faster than I was. I still think only an utter halfwit would shout driving advice to passing motorists. I'm pretty confident I had a better view of my speedometer than her so I'd venture that she'd be better off leaving traffic enforcement to the police. I'd be laughing if she tried this sh*t on an unmarked police officer who was speeding to a crime scene and subsequently got arrested.

So she ruined your morning? So what?

Well, it got me thinking. No, I don't have any beef with horses. I'm animal lover. I HAVE however, had more than one run in with horse RIDERS! And not just when I've been passing them. I have a number of issues with horse riders. Which I will list below.

#1 Passing

Whenever I am in the unfortunate position of having to pass a horse, I do so widely and slowly - as the highway code and many motoring sites advise. In the past I've often smiled and waved at riders as I passed. If you read into the advice on dealing with horse-riders in the road, it's all about how horses are flighty and easily spooked and how you should pass slowly and wide and keep at a respectful distance. Now this may be solely my interpretation, but to my mind the instructions read very similarly to any instructions about how to deal with something that shouldn't be there. A fire for example, or a chemical spill, or an escaped wild animal. When roads were made, they were made for horses, but modern roads and modern traffic don't mix well with horse riding. Mixing different types of traffic always increases danger, but horses I think are particularly dangerous and particularly inconvenient. There have been times when I've been severely delayed, simply by having to crawl along waiting for a space where I can pass safely.

#2 The Often 'Self-Important' and inconsiderate attitude of Riders

I can recall a time when I was in my garden trimming my hedge, when a horse-rider crossly yelled at me to turn the power tool off while she passed. I did of course, and I smiled and I waved, but in honesty I think all I got in thanks was a scowl and a shaking of the head. Another time my kids were playing on their trampoline in the front garden and AGAIN, one of the jodhpur and stirrups brigade quite rudely shouted at them to be quiet, IN THEIR OWN GARDEN! Again, they complied and smiled and waved. Again, all we get in thanks is a tutting and shaking of the head. I feel like there's rarely if ever any appreciation of the concessions we make for horses. I'm not alone in experiencing this sort of attitude from riders. I feel like some people, when you sit them on the back of a nag suddenly think they're king of the world and that life as we know it should revolve entirely around them. It's perfectly illustrated in this comment I found on another site:-

"It must be the same two women I passed yesterday on my bicycle. I couldn’t get past them as they were two abreast and blocking the entire lane. I managed to get past them by cycling onto the verge. One of them then shouted ’fuck off’ at me. When I went back to ask why, she accused me of cycling too quickly and passing too close to her stupid nag and then called me an asshole. in fairness, the nag seemed anything but stupid and was completely unfazed by my presence.

This was all about somebody wanting to seize perceived power in order to bolster an inherently low self-esteem. It happens all the time and I really have no idea why these stupid creatures (I mean the riders) are allowed on the road."


#3 Do the Horses ACTUALLY want to be on the roads?

We shoe horses because hard surfaces like roads and tarmac can damage their hooves otherwise. Horse shoes are basically a semi-circle of steel nailed to the horses hoof, which is essentially like a big fingernail - it's made of similar material. They're not like OUR shoes, which have soft soles to absorb impact. Steel on tarmac doesn't offer much grip or traction either. I may be wrong, I'm not an expert on equestrian matters, but I can't help but suspect horses would rather be walking on soft ground. Road surfaces aside, the very fact that the Highways Agency acknowledges that horses are flighty and easily spooked suggests that they don't like mixing in traffic with cars, motorcycles, vans and trucks. The very fact that we're expected to 'tip-toe' around them, suggests they probably DON'T want to be there.

#4 The Exhaust Problem

Petrol and Diesel car exhausts are a problem. It's one that's being tackled by a move to battery powered vehicles and green, synthetic fuels. Horse exhausts are WORSE though. Don't believe me? Ask any motorcyclist who's come around a sweeping bend in the rain at MODERATE speed, only to be met by a 1 metre square patch of wet, compacted horse manure. I'm told it's like riding on black ice. It's clearly a hazard, why is it legal to leave this on the road? Well, you then have to ask yourself the question: IS IT LEGAL?

The law on this seems quite a grey area:-

'Unlike with dogs, there is no legal requirement for horse owners to clean up their animals’ mess; however section 161 of the Highways Act 1980, makes it an offence to deposit anything whatsoever on a highway which may injure or endanger other road users.'

section 161 of the Highways Act 1980, makes it an offence to deposit anything whatsoever on a highway which may injure or endanger other road users.


Let that sink in. It is NOT a legal requirement for horse owners to clean up their animals mess, but it is an offence to deposit anything whatsoever on a highway which may injure or endanger other road users.

Now objectively, horse manure DOES endanger other road users. It's slippery. especially when wet.

Allowing your horse to spend tuppence in the middle of the road then just leaving it there, is basically the equivalent of taking a brush and intentionally smearing the surface of the road with industrial grease.

Yes, yes, I know you can argue that a car CAN leak oil, however it SHOULDN'T if it's a healthy, functioning car. The difference is you KNOW, if you have a healthy and functioning horse it IS going to create a massive skidding hazard at some point. It's not a matter of IF, it's a matter of WHEN and you just have to hope it doesn't decide to 'drop the kids off' on the apex of a blind bend.


#5 Who is control?

I'll be honest, most of the riders in the village I see - tend to be teenage girls, not actually 'riding' per se, but just sitting there on their mobile phones waiting to get to wherever the horse has decided to go. The other main 'type' are usually middle-aged women in their mock 'Police' high-vi but with the wording changed to 'Polite' to remind you of what they generally aren't, gossiping, laughing and not paying attention. More than once I find myself having to come to a complete stop and wait five minutes while some confused rider is sitting on their wayward horse, with it facing sideways across the road, desperately trying to coax it into going in the right direction. Yes, they have reins, but really, if a horse decides it WANTS to do something it shouldn't - can a rider definitely stop them? I don't know, I've not ridden a horse in a long time - it's a skill I never mastered. It's a hobby I never really understood the attraction of.

The Counter-Arguments

There are several arguments horse-riders often repeat to defend their dubious hobby. I will try and address them here:-

#1 Horses were here first

Yes, technically this is true. However, something being around before anything else isn't actually an appropriate measure of its worth. Goats being legal tender has been around for FAR longer than currency, but personally I'd rather carry a few notes and a credit card. Husbands being allowed to beat their wives for disobedience was the original legal default - but I'd advocate that things have moved on and though this might have made sense to someone at the time, it wouldn't belong in modern society. Religions where the main means of worship are killing people and having sex with horses predate the modern religions by thousands of years - does that mean we should all become Anglo-Saxon pagans? Modern roads are designed for MODERN vehicles. You wouldn't give the army medieval weapons because the musket came first! Times change and we have to change with them.

#2 We need to use roads to connect Bridleways

This I DO have some sympathy with. I'm not against horse riding as a hobby, but I'd suggest it's best done OFF THE ROAD. There's a time and a place for horse-riding. When you watch Poldark galloping over the cliff tops of Cornwall - THAT is horse riding! When you watch the jockeys hurtling around the track at the Grand National - that's horse riding! Even when you watch the dressage enthusiasts leaping fences and what not - it's impressive. Some 14 year old sitting there texting, pausing only to shake their fist at drivers is NOT horse-riding - at least not in my book. In the same was as reversing a trailer might technically be driving, it's not REALLY 'Driving'! We should have more bridleways. I'd support public money being spent on acquiring land and connecting bridleways so equestrian enthusiasts CAN enjoy their hobby properly. The argument that they need to use the roads because of X... I find weak though. They might argue that they can't afford a horsebox. Well, my nearest race-track is Oulton Park and that's miles away, so do I have a divine right to enjoy my hobby anyway by tearing through the village at 100 mph because I can't afford track time and it's inconveniently far away? The answer of course is NO. Really, you could argue that if you can't afford a good area of land to exercise your horse or to keep it at a stables which has a good area of land to exercise your horse - can you really afford a horse?


There are probably other arguments for this debate either way. If you think you have one, please share it in the comments! I think one user on the other forum summed up the situation quite succinctly:-

"1. You don’t need a license or training or insurance.

2. Horses have no ‘brakes’ or ‘steering’ and do have their own minds.

3. It is usually 15 year old girls that I see riding horses on the road, if I drive past one (carefully) and the horse spooks then I will be held responsible! If I drove past another car and the other driver got scared, well that’s his own fault.

4. There is no age limit! Driving is MUCH safer. Even scooters require basic training, insurance, tax and an age limit.

5. Most of the time there is a field there and a horse riding on the tarmac next to it. If you own a horse then as far as I am concerned one of the associated costs should be owning or having access to land for it to exercise. If you cannot afford the land, you cannot afford the upkeep of a horse. "


When I think about the situation, I start to wonder why such an unregulated, unpredictable vehicle is allowed on the roads in the first place. It's not good for the horses, it's not good for the riders, it's seriously inconvenient for drivers and downright lethal for motorcyclists if they hit a patch of wet horse dung. I'm a responsible dog owner, I ALWAYS pick up his business. Why are horse-riders exempt from cleaning up after THEIR pets?

Anyway, the incident that inspired this post did leave me angry, and also quite depressed. But I feel better now! The question is - have I convinced you? What do YOU think?

Martyn Stanley

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Comments (61)

  • Have you ever ridden a horse on the public highway?

    If you have then this is an odd angle to take. If you haven’t then I can appreciate your viewpoint. However;

    Generally speaking we don’t go out to ride on roads, we aim for byways and bridleways. The issue is that byways are being closed at a rate of knots and there isn’t a well linked network of bridleways across the countryside so you end up traversing or travelling along roads at points. Same as you would If you were hiking, not all footpaths and permissive routes connect perfectly.

    Equally, how much of this argument is tarring a sizeable community with one brush? When I’m out on horseback I do my best to be polite and courteous. If there’s a safe verge I’ll ride along there to free up road space for other road users. Similar approach to emissions. You can feel and tell when your horse is gonna drop a load and many riders will pull over so it is at least at the side of the road. Somewhere where as a motorcyclist I wouldn’t be riding among the other detritus, gravel, holes and litter that accumulate at the side of the road.

    If I’m green-laning along byways I always stop and allow horse riders past. I may benefit from living in a rural area where people know people and it pays to be polite. But I’ve never met with annoyed horse riders while driving through the woodlands. They’ll say thank you as I wave them on and shut off the engine, and I’ll wish them a safe ride and all is well.

      4 months ago
    • How much of your time do you loose stuck behind buses that dawdle through towns with two people on and then pull over to a stop but you can’t get past? Is there a call for them to be banned from the roads? No. Because the inconvenience of them is so...

      Read more
        4 months ago
    • Maybe because I’ve been fortunate enough to experience all forms of transport on the British roads bar lorries I have a fair appreciation for each user and their needs and locomotion style. Years of racing around polo pitches, mucking out...

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        4 months ago
  • I dont think they should be banned. However, one of your points about the fact that you dont need a licence to ride a horse on the road was interesting. If there was some sort of test for riding on roads and rules regarding it then the roads would be more accommodating for them, also some kind of integration in driving lessons and maybe tests would be ideal, even if its just theory as there are geographical restrictions to that. As someone who lives by the sea the only way to reach main towns is on country roads where horses are common, but the thing is those roads aren't quiet, its a main route. Common sense needs to play a role too, the rider should think "Do I really need to go down this road or is there a better route with less traffic." A mentality that many Motor bikers already use.

      4 months ago
    • That's true, but what's your take on the issue of them leaving dangerous deposits on the road? If you're a biker living in a rural area this must be a concern?

        4 months ago
    • Not a biker myself, however its just dangerous. Like you said, if your on a nice road in the country side and getting a good rhythm when you come across one the risk is huge. Especially if you swerve to avoid its and loose control, you could hit a...

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        4 months ago
  • Forget the rest of the article, You think the earth revolves around the solar system?

      4 months ago
    • Trip around the solar system. Since copernicus we’ve been in agreement that the Earth revolves around the sun 👍

        4 months ago
    • Going around the sun is not the same as going around the solar system. Going around the solar system would mean being outside the outermost planet

        4 months ago
  • If they want you to shut up then they can buy the land. Until then they have no authority over what happens there.

      4 months ago
  • As a biker I fully agree with the mess being lethal! Not just horses but also farmers dragging mud out there fields.

    I feel the attitudes of the horse riders is the same as cyclists, they act as if they are the law while not being held to it in anyway. Anything that uses a public road should be licensed, insured and ridden/driven by someone who has passed training or a test to do so.

      4 months ago