Horse passing etiquette?

Yes, this is a real question. Ran into a new situation today. Riding along a two-lane road and came up on two horses being ridden side by side on the opposite side of the road from us, but going in the same direction. We weren’t sure whether we should announce ourselves or if that would spook the horses, but one of them spooked as we came up to them and bolted a bit before the woman got it under control. We felt bad but also feel the outcome might have been the same if we had yelled to announce our presence. A car passed them ahead of us, also coming up from behind them, but we came around a corner so didn’t see how the horses dealt with that.

So, what is the right thing to do here?

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I’ve had enough bad experiences with horse riders that it’s always better safe than sorry and call out as far in advance as you can.

This is an aside from your specific situation, but my biggest beef with horses are people who have spookable horses putting themselves in crowded multi-use trail situations and then expecting the entire world to accommodate them. Bikes have to yield to horses in any trail situation in my area, but if you are riding a multi-use trail and have a horse that requires people to give you a 30ft berth to avoid freaking out then you’re the asshole in the same way it’s irresponsible to bring a bad tempered dog to a dog park.


I generally give as wide a berth as possible, even crossing to the other side of the road. I might say hello or something audible but not loud. Otherwise, no loud sounds or unpredictable movements. A bell could be good, too.

If I’m on a trail and hear them coming, I stop and stand still off to the side till they pass. They still startle sometimes.


That sums it up well.
If and when I ride by I ride slow and give plenty of room. Giving a mellow hello that’s loud as far back as possible helps. Sometimes the horse riders will stop when they see cyclists and let you pass but not all of them.


The issue with a horse is they do not normally know what a bike is. If you take the time to get off and talk to the rider and horse the next encounter the horse has with a rider will be a bit better.

I make noise as far away as possible, so the horse knows I’m there long before we are near each other.


That’s what I do with every passer-by

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We meet lots of horse riders here, it usually a friendly hello well in advance in the process of slowing right down.


Well, this is true. Some horse riders will get a lot more pissed off than any hiker I’ve encountered on a trail.
If you have never seen a horse buck someone off or kick someone their hind legs I don’t wanna find out how it feels. I’ve seen horses buck riders off them and go running off into the woods and then there’s a bigger problem.

A bit OT, recently some of the Royal Horseguard horses bucked their riders and bolted for 5miles across central London and did a lot of damage and thats trained horses and soldiers :-o


I yell out hello from a good distance away to alert them, then talk to the horse as I ride past. They’re intelligent creatures and can recognise a friendly voice.


I found that if I just whistle at first opportunity (before I’d typically call out to the rider), it will usually alert the horse enough that they react and alert the rider. Works pretty well with dogs, too, so I don’t startle them. Then when you get closer, if they haven’t noticed me yet, I’ll call out.

I try to carry on a little conversation as I approach and pass, so the horse recognizes that this costumed alien on a contraption is really a human. And part of that conversation is asking if the horse is ok with bikes and will it be alright if I ride past. If there’s any doubt, I get off and walk past. If I ride past, I slow way down and keep talking.


I stop when I see a horse and look to the rider for guidance. Usually they say “Thanks, and either wave me on or move on past quickly.


Same, I encounter them frequently. Always stop and ask the rider what’s best. Horse temperaments can very a lot. Sometimes the rider says this one is chill go ahead and ride by. Other times they advise me to give them a wide berth. In my mind they know the horse far better than I do.


Definitely avoid ringing a bell.
Talking like “ok to pass?” Or “coming from behind!” etc will alert the rider that you are behind them so they can pull to the side and wave you through.

If they are coming towards you eg on a gravel trail, stop and pull right over unless they tell you it’s ok to continue. Some horses are very used to bikes but many are not.

Essentially no sudden movements and no sudden noises. Horses don’t like surprises!


On the road, I slow right down to a crawl, and go as far to the other side of the road as possible. If it’s not possible, I follow behind in a safe distance until there’s more space. I say hello and talk to the riders, but really I’m talking so the horses realise I’m human. Otherwise, I try and avoid making loud noises, for example, I’m pedalling a bit to keep the freehub quiet.

On a trail or small path, I usually stop or wait until there’s more space to pass.

Recently I was on a narrow shared path, and came up to a large group of kids on ponies being led along it. I just got off and walked my bike past all of them, there were well over a dozen. Not worth the risk of one bolting and throwing a kid off.

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I personally haven’t experienced a negative encounter with horses. Lots of negative encounters with other cyclists through…

Also, I ride horses. And my horse was terrified of EVERYTHING. I tried to get him adjusted to things, but his history of abuse just didn’t allow for it. I knew it, so I didn’t get upset over him reacting to things like…bikes (though sure, hated it when people would blow their car horns next to him for fun).

Anyway, just imagine you are out walking with small children, how would you like the cyclist to behave? Act like that. Personally, when I see small kids, I slow down, give space, and look for queues from the supervising adult.

My chance to post my favorite photo of Festus and I.

Yes, that’s my mountain bike helmet hanging from the saddle. I almost always wore a helmet, and my ex wife would give me hell if she saw me without it on (even after the divorce)!

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Do what a driver would do to a cyclist. Accelerate as you get nearer, scream abuse as you pass, swerve hard to cut in front of them, brake hard so they have stop, that sort of thing.

I’m sure you were reasonable, but sometimes horses get spooked anyway. I ease off the power, say good morning to the riders, they might advise you on what to do or be content as you coast by talking to them. If they two a breast and there isn’t the room for you to pass without unsettling their horses then they will likely move to single file, stop and wave you through.

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