A couple weeks ago, I rode CJ in the park and circled towards home. The sun, low in the sky cast the setting in muted hues and not a bird or deer could be seen. A tranquil quiet rested over the countryside as dark shadows stretched across lawns. We traveled up the long hill on Sutliff Hill Road towards the barn. Suddenly at the top of the hill a light brown Jeep traveling way too fast on the gravel road headed towards us. CJ and I stood at the road’s edge, a deep ditch bordered the road and a steep cliff rose from the ditch. A cloud of dust enveloped the Jeep as the driver sped down the hill towards us. I raised my left arm in an attempt to get the driver to slow down and see me and the horse. CJ behaves unpredictably when cars come close to him, especially at high speeds. It became clear that the driver wasn’t going to slow down and I thought CJ would bolt. Dust enveloped the entire hillside and the vehicle didn’t move over. I urged CJ forward into a slow trot, held a tight rein and hoped for the best as the Jeep whizzed by us. CJ took little notice of the Jeep and I breathed a sigh of relief. A minute later another, bigger vehicle appeared at the top of the hill, traveling at high speed through the floating dust. I said to myself ‘oh crap not again’ and stuck out my arm not expecting the driver to pay any attention to me. To my surprise, this time, the vehicle stopped and I realized the driver was an Athens policeman.
“Did you see a brown Jeep go down this road?” asked the officer.
“Yes, a brown Jeep just passed me doing at least 60 mph. I tried to get her to slow down but she wouldn’t,” I said.
“Were there two people or one person in the vehicle?” he asked.
“I really can’t say for sure. I think just one person. All I could see was a silhouette of the driver against the sun and a lot of dust,” I said.
“Did you see if the Jeep turned up towards the park or turned left at the stop sign at the bottom of the hill,” he asked.
“I didn’t see which way the Jeep went,” I said.
The Officer drove off down the road in pursuit of the Jeep. CJ and I rode up the road through the dust in the fading light of day back to the barn. I hadn’t expected to be involved in a high speed chase and wondered if the policeman ever caught up with the Jeep.
Cars and horses on the road can be a volatile mix. Whenever possible, I rein my horse completely off the road and let the vehicle pass, but there are places on the road where this isn’t feasible. Most motorist, motorcycles and four-wheelers I meet on the road and trails are very cautious and careful when they approach a horse. Donna warns drivers to slow down when they come close to her while horseback riding. I have adopted her practice of waving at motorist to indicate they are traveling too fast. Most people are considerate, slow down, or pull over and completely stop for us to pass; aware that horses can be skittish around automobiles. However a few, usually the ones traveling too fast to begin with, don’t slow down (it now seems apparent that some of these people are fugitives from the law).
It’s important for motorist to remember that horses are prey animals and easily scared especially when unfamiliar events happen. Young and inexperienced horses can be flighty and unpredictable. Not all horses behave the same way; some may not mind a truck barreling past them at full speed while others will be thrown into a panic. Motorist need to respect the horse’s space, use caution when passing and not make unusually loud noises like blowing the horn.
The laws in PA give horses and horse drawn vehicles the same rights to travel on roads as automobiles. The PA Driver’s Manual states:
“Many horse-drawn vehicles are dark in color and therefore are difficult to see at dawn, dusk or night. When following or stopped behind a horse-drawn vehicle, be sure to leave plenty of room between the two(2) vehicles. After stopping, horse-drawn vehicles often roll backward, and following too close limits the horse drawn vehicle driver’s ability to see you. This will also provide adequate space for when you prepare to pass. When you pass a horse-drawn vehicle or horseback rider, do not drive too fast or blow your horn, as this may spook the horse. Also, to avoid spooking the horse after passing, be sure to leave enough space between your vehicle and the horse before pulling back into the right lane. Always remember, when on the road everyone has the same rights.”
It’s interesting to note that in PA there is a law still on the books dating back to when cars first appeared on roads. The law states:
“Any motorist who sights a team of horses coming toward him must pull well off the road, cover his car with a blanket or canvas that blends with the countryside, and let the horses pass. If the horses appear skittish, the motorist must take his car apart, piece by piece, and hide it under the nearest bushes.”
People’s perceptions certainly change over time. I will settle for motorist simply giving my horse some space on the road and I’ll move over as far as possible. Happy traveling to everyone and be safe.
http://www.dmv.state.pa.us/pdotforms/pa_driversmanual/chapter_3.pdf; http://blog.chron.com/hoofbeats/2008/03/more-strange-horse-laws/ leapt; http://www.legalzoom.com/us-law/more-us-law/top-craziest-laws-still; http://www.businesscarmanager.co.uk/dont-put-the-car-before-the-horse/