Horses and auto safety, rules for sharing the road

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Horses are prey animals and are sometimes subject to irrational fears. Anza Valley Outlook/Diane Sieker photo

Samantha Pauley, avid horsewoman and animal lover, said she noticed an increase of a lack of respect for equestrians and their mounts on local roads.

“I used to come home and head down to the horse pens to brush out and love on my horse,” she said. “If you have ever had the privilege of just being with a horse, your whole body can physically calm down and your heartbeat can match theirs very quickly. You can tell them all about your cruddy day, cry on their shoulder and they are more than capable of showing that they understand how you feel. This was an important de-stressor for me.”

Horses, ponies, donkeys and mules are a part of life in the Anza Valley for many residents, who enjoy riding and equestrian sports. Unfortunately, not only is horse ownership becoming more expensive, it is also becoming more dangerous.

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Confidence displayed by both horse and rider make for a safe jaunt in the country. Anza Valley Outlook/Diane Sieker photo

“It used to be that just going out your driveway was all it took. You were on your way to a nice ride. You had access through your neighbor’s property – most of course, you knew well, so had permission to cross their land,” she said. That, however, is changing, she said.

Horseback riding can be hazardous today as some neighbors may not be aware of how to travel safely around horses and their riders. Studies have identified horseback riding as a higher risk-activity than car racing, motorcycle riding, football and skiing.

“If you saw a horse rider and you would automatically slow down, make sure that the rider saw you, and the equestrian would signal you to go forward or tell you to stop, wait or pass slowly, just so they had their animal under control,” Pauley said.

But many motorists are not aware of equine etiquette on the road.

Pauley shared some important tips for both horseback riders and motorists.

“When you see horses on the roads, pull up slowly and far enough from kicking hooves. Scared horses can sometimes kick out and strike automobiles,” she said. “Make sure you make eye contact with the rider to determine which direction they would have you take.

“Don’t be afraid or shy to open your window and say howdy to your neighbor. Knowing your neighbor benefits the both of you.”

She recommended being especially aware when children are riding. Horses can get spooked at the slightest little thing and can throw an adult or young rider quickly. Novice equestrians can get into trouble they may not be able to handle safely.

Drivers should know that a horse can weigh anywhere from 800 pounds to over a ton, and in the event of a collision, their car or truck will sustain damage. Slow down and be safe. Allow riders to enjoy their ride, she said.

Riders should educate their mounts to the sights and sounds of approaching traffic so they will be comfortable in that scenario. It is always a good idea for equestrians to ride in groups for safety.

“Believe me when I say that you do not want a horse hitting your car,” Pauley said. “I remember the one accident that happened on Highway 371 with a beautiful horse, there are no words to describe it.”

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.