Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Are you road ready with your horse?

Taking your horse or horse and buggy down the road is a good way to get from one place to another. Going down the road also involves knowing the “rules of the road” and a large dollop of plain old “horse sense.” Otherwise a jaunt down the road can become messy or even tragic.

  “look both ways before you cross.”
Liv Sandberg, UW-Madison extension equine specialist encourages people who ride on the road to know their animals. If your horse is well conditioned to disruptions, noises and sudden movements you’re better able to safely ride on the road than if your horse is unruly or “skittish.”

“You need to know that your horse can handle situations where there’s sudden movement and noises. Drivers will sometimes honk as they approach a horse or buggy. Is your horse comfortable with that kind of situation?” Sandberg said. “A tractor coming down the road makes a different impression than a car.”

When you ride on the road, having control of your horse also is a legal issue. People have a legal “duty” to exercise reasonable care when either riding or driving on a public road, explained Phil Harris, UW-Madison ag law specialist.

“You have a right to ride a horse on a public road – similar to a snowmobile – but you have a duty to use reasonable care not to damage property,” Harris said. “You should know your horse well enough to know how it may behave. Knowingly riding an unruly horse on the road may be seen as a breach of duty in the event of a collision.”

Since collision avoidance is a good thing for everyone on the road take all the steps possible for a safe ride. Always wear a helmet and think about visibility, Sandberg said. Visibility should include the use of reflective materials for both horse and rider. Equip buggies with the SMV reflective triangle.

“You should try to avoid riding on the road at dusk and dawn and after dark,” Sandberg said. “It’s harder for people to see you at those times of the day even if you have reflective materials. And remember, it’s harder for you to see what’s around after dark, too.”

If possible, avoid riding in high traffic areas and during peak travel times, Sandberg continued. The daily “rush hour” brings increased traffic to even the sleepiest rural roads and that increases encounters with vehicles.

Horses may not have good traction on a paved surface either, especially horses with shoes, she said. A slippery surface makes it hard for you and the horse to make quick moves when needed.  “Look both ways and leave yourself lots of time between cars if you’re crossing the road,” Sandberg said. “If you make a dash for it and your horse starts slipping around on the pavement you could get in trouble in a hurry.”

People riding horses on the road also are encouraged to use hand signals to indicate their intent. Ride with traffic and stay to the side of the road so traffic has a chance to move around you. You do have a right to the road but it’s safe and courteous to move aside.  And if you dismount the rules change because a dismounted rider becomes a pedestrian.

“If you’re riding on the side of the road or in the ditch, be aware of what’s around you,” Sandberg said. “Riding into a culvert might not be the best thing for you and your horse.”

Vehicle operators have responsibilities, too, Harris said. A driver coming up on a horse and rider or buggy has the same duty to exercise reasonable care not to damage property or hurt someone. Drivers are supposed to stop if they encounter a horse and rider in an obviously distressed situation.

“But there’s not much you can do about drivers,” Sandberg said. “The best you can do is take care of your side of the equation.”

For more information:
Wisconsin State Horse Council “Horses have Road Rights”

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