The Highway Code gives guidance on how various road users should safely use highways and byways but importantly it does not confirm that a horse has priority or right of way. The British Horse Society (BHS) is supporting Road Safety week (21 to 27 November 2016), aiming to educate drivers to prevent deaths and injuries to horses and riders.  

Sadly it is an ‘urban myth' that there is an old law in place that gives horses the right of way when on the roads. Ultimately all road users have a duty of care to each other to act in a safe manner and do their upmost to avoid endangering other road users, regardless of who has the right of way.

Section 215 of the Highway Code sets out how road users should act when there is a horse on the road. It confirms that drivers should “take great care” and “treat all horses as a potential hazard”. It goes on to say that drivers should “pass wide and slowly” when passing a horse and always head a riders request to slow down or stop.

If a driver does not slow down or drives in a dangerous or inconsiderate way around horses on the road the rider or road user should try to get their number plate and report it to your local police.

What if the worst happens and you and your horse are hit while hacking out?

Unfortunately who is to blame (“liable”) is rarely clear cut in a situation like this. As the owner of the horse you may be liable, under the Animals Act 1971, if your horse spooks while out and causes damage to a car and/or its driver. How the Courts apply the Animals Act is unpredictable and often depends on whether the horse is acting out of character.

However, if the driver was reckless and driving dangerously around your horse they may have acted negligently. To prove negligence you must establish that:

  1. The driver owed you a duty of care.

This means that the driver should have acted reasonably to avoid harm being caused to you and your horse. What is reasonable will depend on the individual circumstances, for example it may not necessarily be reasonable for the car driver to have come up behind your horse and honk their horn and rev their engine because he thinks you are going too slowly;

2.  They breached that duty of care.

This will depend on the individual facts of the case eg that is was reasonably foreseeable that your horse (even if it is normally bombproof) would spook if the driver honked their horn and revved their engine; and

3.  That breach of duty has directly led you to suffer loss.

You would need to confirm that the driver’s actions caused the loss that you suffered and confirm what the loss is e.g. if you fell off and broke your leg and had to have time off work your loss may be your earnings and any clothing that was damaged (“the damages”). The loss that you suffer must be connected to the driver’s negligent act.

The damages that the Court would award you may be reduced or wiped out completely if it could be argued that you were also to blame for the loss that you suffered and that your behaviour made the situation worse (“contributory negligence”) eg you were chatting on your phone with only one hand on the reigns when the driver came up behind you.

Ultimately who is liable will depend on the individual facts of each case and you should seek legal advice as soon as possible from a specialist equine solicitor.