Equestrians consider hacking out a greater risk than eventing and cross country

hacking out road safety

Equestrians consider hacking out a greater risk than eventing and cross country

The UK’s largest equestrian road safety study has revealed that hacking out (riding on roads), including carriage driving and in-hand walking, are considered more high risk in relation to all other disciplines such as eventing and cross country jumping activities.

The study, funded by the Department for Transport (DfT) and commissioned by The British Horse Society (BHS), is believed to be the biggest ever equestrian safety survey involving over 7,000 participants – with ages ranging from 18 to 97 and with an average of 35 years’ equine experience!

Only 3% of equestrians said they never felt stressed/anxious when using roads while 43% did so more than half the time. By far, the main contributors to this stress/anxiety were considered to be the behaviour of other road users (93%) and the characteristics of the road (62%). In order to place the perception of risk equestrians felt when using roads into context, they were asked to express the level of risk they associated with other equestrian activities, ranging from routine handling and care to high-speed activities in open spaces. Riding, carriage driving and in-hand activities on roads were considered considerably more high risk in relation to all other activities; including eventing or cross-country jumping which was considered more of a moderate rather than high-risk activity.

Led by Dr Dee Pollard, the study involved four elements of research:

  • a review of existing published DfT and BHS data,
  • a survey among 6,000 equestrians from October 2020 looking at how frequently equestrians used roads and off-road routes with their horses and what influenced their ability to do so,
  • qualitative work – focus groups and interviews,
  • which in turn informed a second quantitative survey focusing on road safety in the summer of 2021 which generated 7,124 responses.
Oscar hacking out
Oscar, a retired racehorse hacking out in Cheshire with owner Lauren Paxton


It was encouraging that 98% of equestrians reported using safety measures such as wearing high visibility clothing and riding helmets when using roads. However, only 22% reported using a camera. 78% of equestrians said they had experienced an incident while using roads with their horse (the majority experiencing more than 10) that they did not officially report, with only 31% having previously reported to the police and/or the BHS. 322 equestrians (4.5%) said they had been involved in a road incident in the previous year that resulted in injury to either a person or an animal. By far the majority of these incidents (59%) occurred when they were riding or handling a horse as opposed to using other forms of transport such as driving, walking, cycling or riding a motorbike.

The worry that equestrians face is not only affecting their enjoyment but it is also negatively impacting the amount of exercise horses and their riders and handlers are getting. The majority of equestrians agreed that exercise was important to maintain their horse’s mental and physical health. Most felt they could not exercise their horse adequately without using roads; 60% felt that having to use or cross certain roads limited their ability to exercise with their horses and between 60-70% thought that they would exercise their horses more frequently and cover greater distances if they felt safer when using roads.

In terms of actions, the BHS has launched the Horse i app which equestrians can use to easily report an incident when hacking out and to help build up an accurate picture of the realities of the dangers faced by equestrians and their horses on UK roads.

BHS Director of Safety Alan Hiscox commented: “This study has unearthed a number of truly shocking statistics and facts which will hopefully now drive action. Specifically, the extent of under-reporting needs to be addressed as soon as possible. We also need more innovation around safety, an increase in the use of cameras, and improvements to highways’ and motoring policies like reduced speed limits, warning signs, more non-slip road surfaces and Highway Code amendments. We also need more safe places to cross and improved off-road riding facilities. And, ultimately, we need behavioural change from anyone currently using the roads who is not following best practice around safety and consideration for other road users.”

hacking out road safety
Hacking partners Ben, Oscar and Joe

Working towards improved equestrian road safety – overview from author Dr Dee Pollard

The findings from this study have helped to identify areas that could be targeted to help improve equestrian road safety in the UK. These would require a holistic, collaborative effort of a large number of road safety stakeholders at both local authority and governmental levels.

  • Striving towards a transport system which is inclusive of, and promotes, equestrian safety (e.g. warning signage of equestrian activity for motorists, reduction of speed limits on rural roads and those frequently used by equestrians, non-slippery road surfaces, safe road crossings)
  • Improved enforcement of road safety legislation
  • Equestrianism recognised and promoted by governments and local authorities as a legitimate type of active travel and form of green exercise
  • The provision of extensive and better connected off-road rights of way for equestrians which would allow them to plan safer and more frequent exercise sessions with their horses and that were user friendly and accessible for equestrians with disabilities
  • Having standardised equestrian hand signals that are accepted by the traffic department and included in the Highway Code.
  • Researching ways to disseminate knowledge of road systems, safety rules, recommended ways to mitigate risk and awareness of others on roads to different road user groups (equestrian and non-equestrian) and how this knowledge could best be kept fresh in people’s minds.
  • Identifying the most effective ways to change the behaviour of road users around horses
  • Using awareness campaigns and advertising that humanises road users and helps break down any pre-existing stereotypes and helping bridge the disconnect between people using roads
  • Encouraging the use of evidence-based equitation methods which would help habituate the horse to traffic/roads and which have the potential to improve the relationship and trust between a horse and their handler.

The full report is available to download here:


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