Early learning
Ideally, an introduction to traffic should be part of a horse's early education. It need not be stressful.

“Don't force the issue,” advises equine behaviourist Emma Massingale.

“It's much better to include these experiences in his daily life, in a relaxed way with no pressure on him.”

Depending on your situation, there are a number of different ways you can go about this:

• Turn your horse out, if possible, in a field by a busy road. The constant hum of passing traffic can be an effective de-sensitiser, particularly if he shares grazing with other horses that don't react each time a lorry thunders past.

• Regularly take his hay to the field in the back of a car or truck, or in a trailer on a tractor. Not only will he become accustomed to having vehicles driven around him, but will come to see them as positive because they bring his dinner.

• If you park your car at the entrance to his field every morning and evening, drive it into and around the field instead. Leave the radio blaring, or give a blast on the horn (if you don't keep him in a built-up area), to get him used to the sounds cars make.

Braving monster machines
Even a horse that is confident in regular traffic can turn into a gibbering wreck when faced with new loud machinery sounds.

Because many horses don't encounter heavy vehicles very often, it makes it difficult for them to build confidence. Ask a farmer to allow you to walk your horse past machinery that is initially switched off, then with the engine running.

“When out hacking, if I come across something huge and noisy like a bus or a combine harvester, I will get out of the way, by pulling into a lay-by or drive,” says Emma. When the machine has passed, she encourages her horse to follow on, giving him lots of praise.

At the other end of the noise spectrum, bicycles can have a similar effect, terrifying a horse by creeping up behind and then whizzing past.

Equine behaviourist Sam Austin recommends approaching a bike in a similar way.

“For example, we might hack out with someone on a bicycle, with the bike in the lead so the horse doesn't feel like the bike is the aggressor, and teach young horses to follow a bike in the field.

“Once the horse is confident, you can progress to having the bike following and over-taking.”


Riders' responsibilities

Protect yourself
Before you even step out onto the road make sure you can easily be seen.

According to the British Horse Society (BHS), hi-viz clothing allows drivers to see you up to three seconds earlier.

Reflective strips and lights can offer even more visual impact. Not only will you be more easily visible to drivers, but if you fall off and are injured, you and your horse will be easier to spot.

Always wear an up-to-standard riding hat. A body protector is also sensible.

Ride safely and considerately
Don't assume that because your route takes you along a quiet country lane you are safe from the dangers presented by traffic. Just like drivers, riders should be aware of the Highway Code, and should obey a few simple rules:

• Use clear hand signals to convey to drivers what you intend to do, or what you would like them to do. Always put out your arm to tell other road users you are turning left or right, ask drivers to slow down by raising and lowering your right arm, and if you need them to stop, hold your palm up towards them.

• Never ride more than two abreast, and move into single file on narrow roads and as you approach bends.

• Always ride on the left hand side of the road. Even when you are turning right, do not move into the middle of the road but keep to the left until the road is clear for you to cross.

• Always thank careful drivers to encourage them to be considerate to others in the future.


Take charge of the situation
While you are getting your horse used to cars and other vehicles, “Ride when the road is likely to be less busy,” advises Phoebe Buckley.

Avoid the day the dustbin lorry comes and routes where the traffic is likely to be heavy.

And remember your confidence is as important as his. Liz Taylor, chief Instructor at the Brackenhurst Campus of Nottingham Trent University advises, “Breathe slowly and sing to your horse. If you are afraid he will wonder what you are frightened of and whether it's something he should be frightened of too!”

Keep your heels down, your lower leg forward and sit up straight. This will not only keep you safe but it will also give the horse more confidence in you.


Rebuilding confidence after an incident
If your horse gets a fright on the road, it is important to restore his confidence as soon as possible and to ensure that nothing happens to reinforce any negative views he may have formed.


Dos and don'ts...

Do...
• Use hi-vis and reflective clothing – on both you and your horse.
• Wear a British safety standard hat and body protector.
• Thank polite drivers – a smile and a nod is enough if you need both hands on the reins.
• Ride in single file where possible, or two abreast at the most.

Don't...
• Hack on the roads in poor or fading light.
• Ride an inexperienced horse out without a steady companion.
• Ride on the pavements.
• Use your phone or smoke while riding.

This article originally appeared in Horse magazine's Summer 2012 issue.