By Sarah Jackson
YLOA Equestrian Committee Chair

Picture this: You are riding your motorcycle up Corral Drive on a warm Saturday afternoon. This is the kind of day made for riding, no jacket necessary, and not Fresno-In-August-Hot. You’ve been successfully sharing the road with bicyclists, joggers, and car traffic all day. This is a good day!

But ahead, you see several horses and riders, riding single file on a trail next to the roadway. They don’t appear to be in your way — in fact they aren’t even on the roadway. As you ride closer, you notice one particular rider and horse seemingly tense up, but you don’t quite understand why. “I’m sure glad my bike doesn’t have a mind of its own” you think. Because Corral Drive is uphill, you crank the throttle, feeling the pipes rumble under you.

Sarah Jackson

As you ride past, the rider who caught your attention loses control of her horse and ends up on the roadway behind you, as you see the horse in your sideview, running away. You think to yourself, “she seems to have plenty of help from the other riders with her” (you couldn’t exactly give her a ride to the hospital anyway) and you continue on your way.

What just happened? Who’s fault was this? What was the right thing to do? The California Vehicle Code has very specific laws regarding nearly every possible scenario on the roadway. Remember: This is California. If there is anything we love more than our cars, it’s making laws.

“The driver of any vehicle approaching any horse drawn vehicle, any ridden animal, or any livestock shall exercise proper control of his vehicle and shall reduce speed or stop as may appear necessary or as may be signaled or otherwise requested by any person driving, riding, or in charge of the animals or livestock and to insure the safety of any person driving or riding the animal or in charge of livestock.” – California Vehicle Code section 21759.

This section appears to place the bulk of responsibility for the safety of the rider onto the driver of a vehicle. A vehicle in the California Vehicle Code can be a car, truck, bus, trailer, motorcycle, bicycle, or even a horse drawn cart or carriage. It also reads like a Primary Collision Factor section, used for determining fault in a collision. A collision is defined as a damage- or injury-causing event involving a vehicle in motion on the roadway. Crash your bicycle all alone and injure yourself on the public roadway? Technically a collision. Get distracted by a UFO sighting and drive off the roadway and into your neighbor’s fence? Also a collision. Spook a horse which throws its rider, causing injury to the rider or damage to their property? You guessed right. It’s a collision.

We all know the right thing to do when we are involved in a collision — stop and exchange information and assist with attaining medical attention if necessary. But how could this type of collision be avoided?

Here in the park, nearly all of us drive past the Equestrian Center at one time or another. Other homeowners enjoy riding their horses in the arenas there, as well as the trails through the park. Many of these trails are next to the roadway, and still more require the rider to use the roadway for a short distance. This is where cooperation between drivers and riders is beneficial.

Riders can:

1) Use the universal hand signal for “slow down”, holding a bladed hand out with palm facing down, raising and lowering the arm as if it were pressing on a brake.
2) Try to gradually get a horse accustomed to passing traffic in less dangerous scenarios.
3) Wear a helmet and any other necessary safety gear to ensure personal safety.

Drivers can:
1) Drive at the posted speed limit. No rider has time to signal you, and you have insufficient time to react if you are already speeding. And remember, the faster an object comes toward these 1,000-pound prey animals with amplified fight-or-flight instinct, the bigger their reaction.
2) Slow significantly as you pass the rider, giving wide berth if possible.
3) Watch for a hand signal (which may not be possible if the horse is frightened and the rider needs both hands) or signs of distress in the horse. This may look like a shortened stride, raised head, ears darting back and forth, swishing tail, etc. If you see these signs, it may be best to simply stop and let the rider guide the horse to a safer location.

I have ridden my horses around the park several times and overall, the vast majority of drivers are very considerate and safe. However, a little safety education never hurt anyone.

Happy riding and driving, neighbors!