Passing Horses and Horse Trailers Safely

What you, as a motorist, need to know about passing horses and horse trailers on the road! Keeping everyone involved safe is what is most important.

As equestrians, we put a lot of time, effort and money into our horses. We love them more than we love our significant others and make our best attempt not to put them into harmful situations.

Riding on roads between trails or trailering them to our next show, their safety is of utmost importance and we strive to keep our horses free from injury or traumatizing situations.

Photo by Marcella Gruchalak.

Because many of the individuals we encounter on the roads are non-equestrians, they can be ignorant to safe practices regarding maneuvering around a horse or horse trailer. As equestrians, it is in our best interest to educate as many people as we can on the proper etiquette for passing horses and horse trailers. Most of the non-equestrians we encounter on the roads are not being malicious when they speed by, they just don’t realize why we’re taking particular actions to keep our horses safe.

Photo by Marcella Gruchalak

Our horses are domesticated (for the most part) but they are still animals. Regardless of how well trained they are, they still utilize their fight or flight response when reacting to stressful situations. As a non-equestrian, you may not realize that a car passing can be a stressful situation. If it’s unexpected or the horse is new to this type of situation, passing the horse may make for a very scary situation for the horse and rider.

As the driver, for our safety and the safety of our horse, please slow down when passing. If able, please move to the other side of the road. The more space you can put between the horse and the vehicle, the better the situation will be for everyone involved.

Pass “wide and slow.” Have patience — honking the horn and revving the engine are only going to make matters worse and prolong the amount of time it will take to pass. If the road is narrow, wait for the riders to get their horses to an area where they can safely move to the side, out of the way of the vehicle.

Watch for signals given from the riders. If a rider is on a horse with known issues or one learning the ropes, they’ll be sure to try and notify you to take extra caution.

Photo by Marcella Gruchalak

While some of the best practices above also correlate to passing horse trailers, there are some very important points that have not been mentioned.

Some horses take many trips to become comfortable with trailering. One bad experience will leave them never wanting to step foot on a trailer again. The same goes for equestrians. Trailering our beloved animals can cause high levels of anxiety and one close call can give us fits of anxiety every time we hook the trailer to the truck for a trip.

Photo by Zachary Pion

The biggest and most important action that other drivers can take around horse trailers is to give the rig plenty of space. We understand that most motorists have not maneuvered trailers and are uneducated on how much space is needed to stop and turn, but please for the sake of yourself, us and our horses, give us plenty of distance.

When merging into the lane we’re driving in, please give enough space so that if we need to brake there will be plenty of room for us to come to a stop safely. It takes a lot of room to stop a trailer and there have been many wrecks where the vehicle in front gets completely crushed from the impact and weight of a truck and trailer.

Similarly, allow plenty of space between the horse trailer and your car in case an emergency stops is required. If the horse trailer is rear ended, it’s likely the horses will be injured and the trailer door will be difficult to open to get them out to provide the veterinary attention they need.

Photo by Amber Harper

If you’re in front of us. try not to make any sudden stops. We cannot warn our horses of quick, last second stops so this type of action could lead them to fall and get injured in the trailer. And, again, if we rear-end you, no one is coming out a winner.

Just like passing riders on horses, please do not beep and/or rev your engine if you’re behind the truck and trailer. It will only scare the horses inside the trailer.

Photo by Amber Harper

If you’re in a rush because you’re late, have road rage or for any other reason that seems to prevent you from slowing down and passing with caution, remember that an accident is going to delay your arrival by quite a bit longer than slowing down to pass like a decent motorist. As equestrians we would like you to know there is no excuse for putting these innocent animals in the way of danger. Unlike vehicles, our horses are irreplaceable and their safety is of paramount importance to us.

Did I mention they can be pretty pricy as well? The last thing you want is to be ordered by the court to pay back the price of the horse. I’m not trying to scare you, but if that’s the tactic that works, we equestrians will take it as a win.

It doesn’t matter which information it is that gets a motorist to slow down and yield, as long as it is done. From an equestrian who has witnessed a number of unsafe interactions, please slow down and take the time to pass our horses and horse trailers safely.