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December 2017

Horse Sense

by Safety coordinator John Allen, with lots of help…

On Sunday, October 29, CRW member Pierre Avignon posted a message on the CRW e-mail list:

Here is a post from the West Newbury, MA residents' page about encountering horses on the road. It is particularly addressed to bicyclists as an incident happened earlier today.

There are often horses on the road in West Newbury and I would like to remind people of the MA laws in regards to approaching/passing these animals.

“Every person operating a motor vehicle shall bring the vehicle and the motor propelling it immediately to a stop when approaching a cow, horse or other draft animal being led, ridden or driven, if such animal appears to be frightened and if the person in charge thereof shall signal so to do; and, if traveling in the opposite direction to that in which such animal is proceeding, said vehicle shall remain stationary so long as may be reasonable to allow such animal to pass; or, if traveling in the same direction, the person operating shall use reasonable caution in thereafter passing such animal.”

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I would also think that common sense would tell us bicyclists should use similar strategies when approaching/passing horses. A friend’s horse was injured today when it was passed by two bicyclists who did not give room or announce themselves.

Please, let’s keep everyone safe, animals and humans alike."

I believe most cyclists do not really know what to do when approaching a horse, and I can understand that as few of us are familiar with them. Sometime we may think passing silently and slowly is best, but in fact the opposite may be almost true. The key is not to startle a horse, and to remember that the rider relies on the horse’s behavior to stop, move or more importantly remain calm.

Horses have the right of way, whether on trail or the road, it is our duty to stop, yield, or if we are about to pass, to slow down, stay at a good distance and announce ourselves, and only pass or cross path once the rider has acknowledged that the horse is under control.

Pass it on.

This message had me very concerned for the club’s reputation, as Melinda Lyon’s Bagels and a Witch ride ran from Boxford to Newburyport and back on October 29. Whew, for our sake anyway: Pierre later pointed out that our ride did not go through West Newbury. Pierre also got the equestrian in touch with me. Keep reading for some hair-raising detail and good advice:

Hi John, my name is Dan Marinos, I'm the gentleman that had the horse wreck yesterday in West Newbury where cyclists were involved. First let me say how thrilled I am that this has reached your attention, I can only educate the cyclists I come in contact with, you on the other hand.......

I'm gonna explain what happened and then let you know how incidents like this can be avoided. I was ponying, which means I was astride one horse leading another, something I have done hundreds of horses are well trained and very much used to traveling on roads. But they are horses, prey animals, they choose flight when perceiving a threat. The cyclists came up behind us silently and were upon us in an instant, much like a mountain lion would behave. The ponied horse spooked and bolted, the horse I was on did the same, herd instinct it's called. I had to let go of the second horse in order to gain control of the horse I was on. The loose horse lost his footing, went down, and slid 40 ft on his side. I'm extremely lucky that his wounds are superficial and he'll be ok, it could have been so much worse.

It could have been avoided so easily, two words, behind you! If they had announced their presence, most cyclists do, none of it would have happened.

So, when approaching a horse on a cycle, do not stay silent, it worries them. When approaching from the front slow down, look for direction from the rider, say anything so the horse realizes it's a human approaching. All horses are different, a good rider who knows his horse is responsible for instructing cyclists on what to do after they greet. Approaching from the rear is a whole different story, they don't see you or hear is imperative you announce your approach from a decent distance. If this had been done the other day, I would have stopped, turned the horses so they could see what was approaching, and allowed them to pass.

I hope this sheds some light on the subject. Thanks so much for your time and concern!

The horse may not necessarily be the one injured. My friend Karen Loewen commented in a Facebook group:

"I watched a horse bolt at three riders that I was about 30 feet behind. They refused to slow down with me. The horse was fine. All three of the riders ended up on the ground. I'm so scared of meeting a horse now, I dismount and remove my helmet and let the horse pass me."

Unless perhaps the horse is in Memorial Day parade or the like and I’d be paying my respects, I’d keep my helmet on though. Equestrians wear helmets too. Horses are used to them.

Many thanks to Mr. Marinos, Pierre and Karen and for their concern and attention, and for writing most of this article for me! Be safe out there.

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