To safely cross a public road on horseback requires confidence, awareness and a well-trained, responsive mount. Follow these techniques to minimize your risks:
Plan your route. If you have leeway to choose your crossing point, select an area with good visibility for at least an eighth of a mile in both directions. Avoid getting too close to curves in the road; a driver rounding the bend might not see you in time to react appropriately. Older, rougher or more gravelly stretches of road will give you more traction than smooth, new asphalt, especially on hills. If you have to walk parallel to the road to reach a safer crossing point, stick to the shoulder and watch for low-hanging branches.
Stop, look, listen. Before stepping into the road, stop your horse, look in both directions, and listen for the sound of approaching vehicles.
Hold a steady course. Changing direction or speed on slick surfaces increases the chance of slipping. Sit as still as you can on your horse, and use your rein and leg aids to keep his attention focused on you.
Signal to motorists. Most people will be courteous, but well-meaning drivers may not know what to do when they encounter horseback riders. If a car approaches while you are still in the road, a friendly wave will catch the driver's attention; then, if you need to, hold your hand up and ask them to stop until you are safely across. Don't forget to smile and wave a "Thank you."
Be seen. If you frequently ride near vehicle traffic, consider wearing a reflective vest like those used by crossing guards and highway work crews. You can also buy a variety of lights, reflective gear and other products designed to increase the visibility of both horses and riders.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #430.