Is it illegal to ride a horse on the road

Drive with care around horses

People riding on horses or horse-drawn vehicles have the right to share our roads.

They have the same rights and responsibilities as other drivers, motorcycle riders and bicycle riders. They follow the same road rules, but also have some special rules.

Horse riders can ride on any road, unless a sign says they must not.

They can ride 2 abreast (side by side) as long as they’re within 1.5m of each other. More than 2 horse riders can ride side by side, but only if 1 is overtaking the others or they are droving stock.

Horses can be unpredictable

If you’re passing a horse, whether it’s being ridden or led, or is pulling a vehicle, you should:

  • slow down and leave plenty of room
  • stop if the rider is having difficulty with their horse
  • never use your horn or rev your engine.

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Across Australia, horses have the same rights as any motor vehicle. Classification of a rider includes any person who rides a motor bike, bike, animal or animal-drawn vehicle.

Drivers may think needing to know the rules about sharing roads with horses is outdated, but the NSW Government disagrees. In fact, lack of education in this space – and 55 crashes involving a riderless horse struck by a motor vehicle resulting in 63 casualties between 2011–2021 – has been the impetus and focus of a late-2022 awareness campaign run by Transport for NSW.

According to the NSW Road Rules, horse riders cannot travel on the road more than two abreast and must be within 1.5 metres of each other. Horses and riders are permitted to travel on footpaths and nature strips unless specifically prohibited and provided they give way to pedestrians at all times. A person also must not lead an animal while driving a motor vehicle, or being a passenger in a motor vehicle or riding a bicycle.

Safety trips for drivers

  • Be aware that horses can be easily frightened and unpredictable.
  • Slow down and take extra care on bends, crests and on narrow roads, particularly in areas close to horse riding schools or where you see warning signage.
  • If you’re passing a horse, whether it’s being ridden or led, or is pulling a vehicle, remember to:
    • Slow down and allow plenty of room when overtaking,
    • never use your horn or rev your engine, as this could scare the horse.
  • It’s not just about leaving enough room while passing a horse, it’s about not driving too fast or making loud noises that can scare a horse.
  • If you are involved in a crash, you are required to stop and provide relevant information. If someone is injured or there is damage to property, call Triple Zero (000). If a horse is injured, contact WIRES on 1300 094 737 or use the IFAW Wildlife Rescue app for find a suitable rescue organisation near you.
  • Ensure you are familiar with, and follow, any warning signs alerting you to the presence of horses.
  • Look out for horses near race courses and showgrounds, especially at dawn.
  • If you plan to tow a horse float, load your horse float safely to make sure it meets towing safety requirements, and drive safely.

When it comes to rules for motorists, there are no specific rules in New South Wales. It is interesting to note, however, that in Queensland the equivalent to our NSW Road Rules specifically lists failing to give way to a “restive horse” as an offence.

Under their rule, a motorist is obliged to pull over to the left side of the road and turn the vehicle’s engine off if signalled by a rider (usually by raising a hand and pointing at the horse) until the horse(s) have calmed down or have travelled far enough away not to be aggravated. You don’t want to see an aggravated horse, it’s the stuff night-mares are made of.

Safety tips for horse riders

  • Use horse trails where possible. If you do ride on the road:
    • Always obey road rules
    • Avoid tight corners or crests and instead ride on roads where motorists have a good line of sight
    • Ride on the left hand side of the road in the same direction as the traffic
    • Use clear hand signals to notify motorists of intent to turn.
  • You are permitted to walk or ride your horse on footpaths and nature strips unless specifically prohibited and provided you give way to pedestrians at all times. 
  • Ride during daylight hours and wear bright coloured clothing.
  • You can ride side-by-side with another horse rider as long as there is enough space to do so safely and you’re within 1.5m of each other.
  • You should always wear a helmet that meets Australian Standards.
  • For more information, please visit Centre for Road Safety - Horses in Traffic.

It’s worth noting that horse riders are subject to the road rules in all states, they don’t rein supreme. This means riders must be below the 0.05 blood-alcohol limit while on horseback and abide by the speed limit. It’s also a neigh to use a mobile phone whilst riding, so no horsing around!

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The information contained on this webpage is provided for general information purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice or as a substitute for legal advice.

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In most states, horse riders and handlers of horse-drawn vehicles can use the roads and must adhere to all local traffic laws. The animal's owner should still exercise caution and try to keep the road open for easy traffic flow.

Can you ride a horse in the city?

Generally, most communities forbid horseback riding in the city limits because of the inherent dangers of mixing horses and vehicles. However, some cities allow for horseback riding. To find out if your city permits horseback riding, call, or visit their official website. That's what I did.

Can you legally ride a horse on the street UK?

You MUST NOT take a horse onto a footpath or pavement, and you should not take a horse onto a cycle track. Use a bridleway where possible. Equestrian crossings may be provided for horse riders to cross the road and you should use these where available (see Rule 27).