Have you ever wanted to just get on your horse and ride without having to trailer him to a local trail or arena first? Miles of roadways begin at the end of your driveway. I’ve always liked the idea of riding my horse through town or down a country road.
But I often wondered, is it even legal to ride a horse on the sidewalk or road? After a little digging and asking the right people, I think I’ve found the answer.
So, is it legal to ride a horse on a sidewalk or road? Rarely is it legal to ride a horse on a pedestrian walkway like a sidewalk because it’s dangerous for others. In most places, equestrians must obey vehicle traffic laws and a horse therefore, can be ridden on roadways where permitted by local ordinances.
Before you start out on a new roadside adventure, there are several important things to know that will keep you, your horse and other drivers safe. Keep reading to learn the safest way you too can horseback ride alongside the road.
Where do I check for local laws
Finding local laws can be challenging and frustrating, especially online. That’s why I am writing this article. Official state, county and city websites are available but are usually hard to navigate when searching for specific answers.
I discovered that the easiest way to find out about local ordinances is to visit in-person or call your local municipality’s city personnel. This can be the city hall or even the local police department. For folks residing in unincorporated jurisdictions, contact your state’s sheriff department. Just make sure to get the reference information so you can look up and confirm the laws yourself.
Also, keep an eye out for posted signs that indicate specific use restrictions. Remember, ignorance is not an excuse and even if you have seen others riding on a particular stretch of sidewalk or road, it doesn’t mean it is legal.
Why you shouldn’t ride on the sidewalk
Horses are large animals that are sometimes unpredictable. While you may have confidence in your horse, other pedestrians that share the sidewalk probably don’t. All it would take is a barking dog on a leash or a kid excitedly lunging to pet your horse for chaos to breakout.
On the confined space of a sidewalk, that could be dangerous for everyone involved.
However, there may be one instance where riding on a sidewalk, while still unlikely to be legal, is a safer alternative than the road. One such instance is when you encounter a very busy stretch of road or highway where the risk of riding on the road is greater than that of staying on the sidewalk.
But this begs the question. Will you actually get a citation or ticket if you are seen riding on the sidewalk? Obviously, the answer to that question depends on the area where you live and how accepting people are to a little bit of country invading their urban setting. Either way, I find it unlikely that you will encounter any resistance when riding unless you are clearly creating a dangerous situation for others.
Of course, we certainly can’t ignore the other potential hazard of riding on the sidewalk. Horse poop! And leaving a steaming pile for a jogger to leap over is a guaranteed way to garner negative attention. This may ultimately lead to you getting in trouble for riding on the sidewalk.
If you must ride on a sidewalk, be courteous to your fellow users and discreetly scoop any poop off the path.
What you need to know to ride on roads
Riding alongside roads is tricky business on all but the most rural roads. Encountering cars and other obstacles can be stressful for you and your horse. Here is what you need to know to safely and legally ride on the road.
Obey traffic laws
While horseback riding, you are considered a driver on the road and need to follow all relevant traffic laws. This includes hand signaling when turning, yielding where appropriate, stopping at stop signs, and following traffic signals.
Equestrians have the right-of-way just like pedestrians and bicyclists but many motorists are unsure about how to drive around horses. Being alert and taking extra precautions will serve you better than assuming a motorist knows the correct way to respond around a horse.
Again, make sure to check local laws for any additional rules specific for equestrians.
Which side of the road do you ride on
Most states require equestrians to ride on the right-hand side of the road, following the flow of traffic. This means you and your horse will not be able to see what is coming up behind you. It is imperative that your horse doesn’t spook easily to noises and swift movements from behind.
The state of Colorado, interestingly, requires equestrians and pedestrians to travel approaching traffic on the left-hand side of the road. This makes a lot of sense since you are able to see the vehicles coming and can react faster to any swerving or issues that may occur.
Wherever you live, make sure to follow your state’s rules and guidelines to prevent traffic infractions.
Is the route I want to ride safe
Not all roads are created equal. Riding along a quiet, wide, country road with plenty of visibility is different than trying to squeeze along a narrow shoulder in a congested area. Yes, equestrians have the right-of-way, but it’s not worth the risk of potentially causing a dangerous accident between a horse and a vehicle.
Being thorough and researching the route you want to ride is step number one. Drive or walk the road yourself before taking your horse out. Here are some questions to consider when scoping out the route.
1. How much traffic is there?
2. What time of day is traffic the lowest? the highest?
3. What types of vehicles are frequent – commuter cars or semis?
4. How wide is the shoulder?
5. What is the ground material – asphalt, gravel, dirt?
6. Are there any dangerous corners or blind spots?
7. Where is the safest place to cross back to the other side?
8. Can we get off the road if I need to adjust something?
9. Are there any known distractions – dogs, other horses, railroad tracks, large equipment, etc.?
10. Will this ride be stressful for both me and my horse?
Minimizing dangers while riding with traffic
Let’s face it; riding your horse around motor vehicles is dangerous. Humans and horses are both unpredictable. However, there are many things you can do to feel safe and enjoy your ride at the same time. Let’s go over some details to get you and your horse road-ready.
Train your horse before you go
Thereare several things you should do to boost the safety for both you and your horse before heading out along the pavement. First, a well-trained, “bombproof” horse is less likely to spook at the many distractions that crop up alongside the road. Make sure to practice desensitizing ground and saddle work with your horse.
Along the road, with cars flying by, is not the place to introduce your horse to scary, new things. Inevitably, you will come across something that you didn’t train for but exposing your horse to as many things as possible while at home will help him feel more confident and safe when out. Here is a quick list of things that you should prepare to encounter along the road.
- garbage can
- plastic bags
- fire hydrant
- sewer plates
- trains / train tracks
- honking horns
- vehicle noise
- other horses
This list could go on and on but the point is, the more you work with your horse and develop a calm approach to dealing with new things, the better he will react when the time comes while out on a ride.
Don’t ride alone
If you are a novice rider and/or have an unexperienced horse, you should not attempt to ride alongside traffic by yourself. Not only is this is a surefire way to cause anxiety for both you and your horse, the potential for a major accident is greater.
Find a friend who is experienced with riding along roads and ask them to accompany you. You will be able to learn and ask questions and your horse will feel calmer with a buddy nearby.
When riding with others, make sure you ride single file or abreast appropriately. When the shoulder is narrow, ride single file to stay safely out of traffic. If the shoulder is wide and there is plenty of room, riding side by side is great for conversing and keeping the lesser experienced horse calm. Make sure the more experienced horse is the one walking closest to traffic.
What if you don’t have any fellow horse friends nearby to ride with? Well, I grew up with this dilemma having only one horse at a time and I’ll share my solution. I rode and my wonderful dad walked behind. It’s not conventional and we always got interesting looks but I got to ride safely as a youngster.
Don’t be afraid to ask a family member or friend if they will go on a walk with you for support until you are comfortable enough to go on your own. There are no rules stating everyone must be riding a horse. I would, however, refrain from having your buddy ride a bicycle as that, coupled with traffic, is a lot of distraction for your horse to focus on.
Wait to cross the road
Again, equestrians have the right-of-way just like pedestrians and bicyclists but many motorists are unsure about how to drive around horses. Being alert and taking extra precautions will serve you better than assuming a motorist knows the correct way to respond around a horse. So before you start crossing the street, make sure you understand exactly what the other drivers are doing in relation to you. If in doubt, just wait until it’s totally clear.
If you start to notice your horse getting agitated and uncomfortable, dismount and lead him across the street. Many times my horse calms down when I dismount and stand near his head and walk a ways to reassure him.
Take it slow
Riding along a street is not the time for races. This is a leisure outing for the most part. Fast moving cars and fast moving horses are a bad combination. And not to mention, asphalt can be very slippery for shod horses. Not only can a spooked horse slip when they move quick unexpectedly but fast speeds could potentially lead to slips and falls, especially if the ground is wet and inclined. To learn more about riding on pavement, check out this great article.
Avoid riding at night
I’ve had some amazing night rides but in the right location and setting. Horses may be large but in the dark, horse and rider are hard to see even when headlights pass over you. Horses do have great night vision but I guarantee most drivers do not. Be safe when riding along a road at night.
If this really is your thing, make sure both you and your horse sport bright reflective clothing or markers. It’s also smart to wear bright colors during the day so you don’t blend into the scenery and drivers can see you easier.
Other places to ride instead
As great as riding along a road sounds, with its endless possibilities and literal start right at the bottom of your driveway, you may still be hesitant. Here are some other great places to go horseback riding that don’t have you competing with vehicle traffic.
1. Trails – explore beautiful lands and see amazing sights along the thousands of trail miles cut across the United States. The United States Forest Service, Wilderness Areas, National Forests, and National Parks all include trails open for horseback riding. Websites like TrailLink.com and HorseandRider.com make finding your next trail ride quick and easy.
2. Coastal Beaches – enjoy salty air, endless sand, and wide open spaces with few distractions where the biggest limiting factor is the tide.
3. Gravel/Dirt Roads – the United States Forest Service allows numerous outdoor activities on its public land including horseback riding. Appreciate easy routes along these gravel roads and if you plan your trip carefully, sometimes these roads connect to trails and you can enjoy both types of terrains. In addition, many of these gravel roads are gated meaning no vehicle traffic will bother you.
4. Arenas – if trail riding isn’t your thing, maybe arena work is. Both Western and English disciplines utilize arenas in numerous ways; barrel racing, pole bending, cattle roping, dressage, jumping, and more. If you ever get bored of riding in circles, take a break and check out some of the above destinations.
As you go off to try roadside riding, remember to check your local laws, do a little research on the route and spend some training time desensitizing your horse. Being prepared will prevent most issues and give you the confidence to navigate any unforeseen problems.
Remember to exercise caution, as a fast moving vehicle will always win and a horse vs. vehicle collision is not something anyone should have to experience.
Have fun and be safe!