Riders are urged to wear their high vis at all times when hacking on roads, even when the sun shines
The weather is starting to brighten up (finally, we all cheer) and where I am from we have been lucky enough to see the sun on about four consecutive days.
But one downside of the warmer weather is many riders stop wearing hi-vis gear when riding on the roads. I live in rural Worcestershire and we have a large number of horses and livery yards in a small area. I would say, from casual observation, around 90 per cent of riders do not wear any high vis in bright sunlight.
The trouble is, horses can often be more difficult to see in summer when the sunlight is dazzling than in winter when the light is low. This is a particular problem on country lanes where you can go from shaded areas to bright areas round a bend, which takes your eyes a minute to adjust.
There is also the temptation in nice weather to hack out after work. It's a great idea but you can find yourself heading back to the yard as the sun starts to drop, dazzling drivers. If you have been out for a while it can be difficult for you to notice the change in light as it gets dusky so you may feel perfectly visible.
In the Evesham, Worcestershire, area there has been a spate of cars hitting horses. Fortunately. none have been fatal to either horse or rider, though there have been a few nasty accidents involving loose horses as well.
John Walsh, a local motorist, said, "I don't think people realise how difficult it can be for drivers to see them out riding. It might sound silly because horses are so big, but the majority of them are brown coloured and blend in with the surroundings. I live in a rural area with a lot of narrow, twisty roads and it can be difficult to slow down in time for riders and horses. I always stop and tell people who are wearing their high visibility gear how nice it is to see them wearing it. Too many riders don't bother."
Rider Sarah Baglin admits she often doesn't wear high vis in the summer. "I just assume because I am on a big animal people can see me," she says.
"I always wear hi-viz because I've found it difficult to make out horses when I've been in the car, especially dark bays," fellow rider Erin Mawer says.
According to British Horse Society (BHS) figures, there were 225 road accidents involving horses in 2011. These included eight rider fatalities and 52 serious rider injuries.
Although down on the average figures of 16 deaths a year, the statistics are alarming. There is not information on whether the riders were wearing high visibility gear or not.
The BHS considers horse-related traffic accidents to be significantly underreported - if you witness or are involved in a road incident involving horses, you are urged to register the details at http://www.horseaccidents.org.uk/
There is currently no requirement for an equestrian-related road accident to be recorded unless there is human injury that requires hospital treatment direct from the scene of the accident.
A horse can be killed, or a vehicle written off and the accident may not be recorded anywhere. The BHS campaign for safer riding on the roads relies on information sent in by you, the general public, to tell them about your experiences with horse-related road accidents.
Sue Russell of Horses and Road Safety Awareness (HRSA) said: "Light can play tricks even during the summer months, and we recommend combining two colours - orange and yellow - to ensure you are seen.
"Invest in different colours on your horse too, for example leg wraps, tail guard, breast plate, hi-vis reins or noseband. The key is to be seen from all levels, from the front to the back, in all forms of light and to encourage all road users to pass slow and wide."
While other road users have a responsibility to pass wide and slow, riders can play a part in keeping themselves safe. This includes showing courtesy to drivers when they stop or slow down and wearing the correct equipment, such as a correctly fitting, up-to-standard riding hat and hi-vis clothing.
It is so nice to be able to be out and really enjoy the weather with your horse in the lighter evenings. Just remember that you do not need to throw off your high vis with your waterproofs and thermals. It is estimated that taking this precaution allows a driver to see you three seconds earlier. It might not sound a lot but it can make a big difference.
On e-bay you can get a reflective tabard to be worn by the rider for around two pounds. The cost of a new horse is likely to be £1,000 plus, depending on what you are after. The cost of a life is for you to decide.
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