At this time of year, our Humane Officers occasionally receive questions about the rights and duties of equestrians on public roads. Just like cyclists, pedestrians and motorized vehicles, horses and horseback riders are fully entitled to use California roads and highways. It’s important to know that sharing the road with horses is different than sharing the road with other modes of transportation. Horses have an honored place in the history of transportation, and as a mode of travel their needs and those of their riders must be respected.
Stay tuned for future posts where we’ll share tips on how drivers and horse riders can safely share the road together.
Here is a brief summary of the California Motor Vehicle Code as it applies to equestrians.
Who Must Yield to Whom?
Section 21759 of the California Motor Vehicle Code provides that the driver of any vehicle approaching a horse-drawn vehicle or person on horseback must slow down or stop as appropriate under the circumstances to avoid frightening the horse or otherwise endangering horse and rider. So, the folks who roar past you yelling and honking the horn are violating the law.
Section 21805 of the California Motor Vehicle Code provides that vehicles must yield to equestrians in designated equestrian crossings. However, 21805 also notes that the rider must use due care not to proceed into the path of a vehicle – even at an equestrian crossing, you still have to look both ways to make sure there is no oncoming traffic before proceeding.
Riding Down the Road
Section 21050 of the California Motor Vehicle Code provides that “every person riding or driving an animal upon a highway” has all of the rights and duties of a vehicle driver. This means that equestrians must obey all traffic laws, including riding with traffic (on the correct side of the road) and signaling all turns. If you are riding along the road and your horse suddenly bolts into the path of an oncoming car, you could be held responsible for the accident.
As a horse owner or horse property owner, you can be held liable for negligence if you fail to keep your horse contained and it causes an accident. In other words, keep your fences in good repair.
Here’s how you can share the road safely with equine forms of travel:
- Slow down long before you get close to horses and riders.
- Pass at a slower speed and give them a wider berth than you would a pedestrian or cyclist – at least one car width.
- Brake and accelerate gently, so you don’t make extra noise or spray gravel.
- Turn off your stereo and don’t honk or yell, so you don’t spook the horse.
- If you’re travelling with others by bicycle, scooter or motorcycle, ride quietly and approach single file. Horses are prey creatures and can panic if they see a “pack.”
- If you’re on a motorcycle, never rev your engine.
- Never throw things out of the window (because, hey that would also make you a litterbug!)
- If the horse is acting skittishly, then wait for the rider to get it under control or out of the way, before you pass.
- Once you’re past the horse and rider, gradually accelerate.
Stay safe and be sure that:
- Your horse is ready and steady for riding on roads where there’s traffic.
- You and your horse are highly visible – You wear a reflective vest; your steed wears bright or high-visibility leg bands, tail guard, bridle straps or hindquarter rug.
- You obey all laws and signage.
- You avoid riding on roads in poor visibility such as darkness, dusk, dawn, fog, rain or snow.
- You stay calm at all times, so your horse knows that everything is “a”-okay.
Horses have an honored place in the history of transportation, and as a mode of travel their needs and those of their riders must be respected.
About the Author –
Bill is a retired, 30 year career California Highway Patrol Sergeant and retired Colonel from a parallel 34 year career in the Army Reserve. Bill has worked for HSSF as an Investigator and Humane Officer since September 2017, focusing on humane education in our Placer County communities.