Thursday, May 23, 2019

Keep off the highway

November 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Fen Tiger


Horses and riders have their place – and it isn’t on the road, says Fen Tiger.


I sat on a horse once. It then walked down the field and decided to follow its mate in front at what seemed to me a fast pace. I had no control over the beast when it was still and even less when it decided to run.

I clung on for dear life – unable to stop the animal until it decided to stop of its own accord. Had it wanted to, it could have thrown me off at any point. Yes, I know it is only a horse I am talking about but it was a big one and I was terrified.

It is a long way down when you sit up there. And you are never completely in control – even the best riders sometimes get thrown. In the 40 or so years since I started driving on the road with a tractor, my most dangerous encounters have been with horse and rider.

Horse riders often seem to think me and my tractor shouldn’t be allowed on the road – as if they own it. But in my opinion, most horses should be kept well away from the highway. Spend a few weeks on the rural roads with tractor and trailer and you will probably agree with me.

There appear to be two breeds of horse rider.

The first breed usually pulls to the side of the road – or off it completely – when faced with an oncoming vehicle. It means an easy passage can be had by all. Most give some sort of acknowledgement and as a tractor driver I do my best to pass slowly and carefully.

The second breed just refuses to give way – expecting me and my 12-tonne trailer to stop at an instant or pull over on to the soft verge. It’s not easy to do so in most cases and on occasion it is downright impossible.

Rules for drivers

So what are the rules for drivers? Well, so far as I have always been told, it is important to slow down and be ready to stop, give the horse a wide berth and pass slowly and avoid any sudden movements. Then, once passed, accelerate away slowly.

For riders, the general advice seems to be to wear light coloured or fluorescent clothing, never ride more than two abreast and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads or around bends. From my experience, it seems most horse riders are unaware of their obligations.

I have spent numerous hours chasing horse and rider who mistakenly believe that a freshly cut stubble field gives them licence to exercise their horse. When challenged, they never apologise, choosing instead to cite their “right to roam” or belief that they are on a bridleway.

Whatever the excuse, it nearly always ends up with the rider insisting they are doing no harm. The law states that horses have a right to be ridden on all public roads but not motorways. The simple solution would be for the arrogant horse riders to actually ask permission to enter the field.

If a field is to be left untouched until spring, I would have no problem with access. But once you grant permission for one horse, others follow until the farm starts to resemble a re-run of the Grand National. In the end, it is just easier to say “no” to everybody who asks.

Horse droppings

One contentious issue is horse droppings. If a dog walker allows their dog to foul a footpath, they are expected to pick up the mess. Most do. But this does not apply to horses. A right of way through the farm yard means any droppings could easily be trodden in or carried into grain stores.

I was told by one unhelpful rider that horse dung is a highly valued compost and poses no risk to human health. When I asked if she could dismount, and clear away the dung to one side, she insisted that I could do that and throw it onto my nearby wheat field!

Maybe. And maybe she could clean my labrador’s coat when he rolls in it and rolls on the kitchen floor. It is never an easy situation meeting a horse and rider – sometimes aggression occurs usually because the rider is unaware of their responsibilities or sense of direction.

I realise that not all riders are inconsiderate or pompous and a common argument is that horse riders do not pay road tax and should not be on the road. But, as we all know, every taxpayer contributes to the roads irrespective of their mode of transport.

I guess with most things in life the horse rider and other road users such as myself have to get along and tolerate one other. It is a fragile arrangement and not one I look forward to. There is a place for the horse and rider but not on the roads.


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