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Creating the right image

Congratulations to Debbie Smith, who has won a BHS award for her work trying to help make riders safer on the roads, writes Carolyn Henderson. When more than 100,000 people signed her petition calling for a legal requirement for drivers to go past a horse wide and slow, and to be compelled to abide by hand signals asking them to stop and slow down when asked, Parliament was obliged to debate the issue. I doubt the law will be changed, if only because of the difficulty in enforcing proscribed width and speed restrictions, but we should all try to get drivers on our side. Most are – but it’s also up to us to make sure we don’t give the wrong impression. We need to give our image a makeover. There are still too many people who think that all horse owners have big cheque books and a big sense of their own importance, when most of us go without things non-horsey folk take for granted to pay for our passion. Just a smile can make all the difference, so when I drove past a young woman rider in textbook wide and slow fashion and she didn’t even make eye contact, I stopped in a safe place, got out and asked if she had a problem. No, she said. Why would I think that? I explained that because she didn’t acknowledge the fact that I’d slowed down, I thought she might be worried about something. She shrugged, didn’t spot the sarcasm and said she was thinking about something else, so hadn’t noticed. I suggested that she should notice, because she was causing problems for those of us who showed drivers that we appreciated their courtesy. You don’t even have to take a hand off the reins to show appreciation – so there’s no excuse. We can’t assume that other road users understand that the quietest horse can spook occasionally, even though rule 215 of the Highway Code says: “Take great care and treat all horses as a potential hazard; they can be unpredictable, despite the efforts of their rider/driver.” And yes, you will get the occasional moron who thinks that you’re using a hand signal request to slow down just to antagonise him or her. Again, the Highway Code is on our side and tells drivers: “Look out for horse riders’ and horse drivers’ signals and heed a request to slow down or stop.” Much of it is down to education, so maybe we should ask driving instructors not to just tell pupils to follow the code, but explain why. And yes, if a rider doesn’t acknowledge a learner’s efforts, maybe instructors should explain how getting the message across to learner drivers is good news for riders, and that courtesy on both sides helps keep us all safe. I can see why so many riders are now wearing head cams. You can find frightening footage from these, showing what happens when drivers don’t think – or think that riders shouldn’t be on the roads. Without being stroppy for the sake of it, we have as much right to be on the roads as any other user. We need to protect that right - which is why we should all thank Debbie Smith – but we need to monitor our behaviour as well as that of the drivers we meet.