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Equestrian Crossings: Who Has the Right Of Way?

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California Motor Vehicle Code 21805 requires drivers to be cautious and yield the right of way to riders in designated horse crossings.

Section 21805 of the California Motor Vehicle Code states that anyone driving a car, truck, or bicycle on the streets must yield to horses and riders in designated bridle crossings. However, 21805 also notes that the horseback rider must use due care not to proceed into the path cars. Just because you are in a designated crossing, does not eliminate your duty to look both ways before crossing the street.

Make sure your horse does not spook easily before riding it on a path that intersects a heavily traveled roadway. Horses are prey animals, and once the flight response kicks in, it will be hard to get them to stop running. You could be seriously injured.

As a horse owner or horse property owner, you can be held liable for negligence if you fail to keep your horse under control and it causes an accident. Horses are big, muscular animals and can cause a lot of damage to a car if they collide.

It is good to know all the laws for riding your horse on California roads. The California vehicle code also states that you can legally ride your horse on public streets with all the rights and duties that car and truck drivers have. This means you must obey all traffic laws including stopping at intersections and signaling your intentions before turning. It is extremely important for everyone on the roads to know the laws and proceed with caution when traveling.

If you ride your horse regularly, then you’ll probably find yourself riding on roads and among traffic at some stage. There is no age limit on who can ride their horse on the roads. When your horse is on the street it is considered a vehicle, and you can be ticketed. Because of this, it is vital to know some basic tips before riding your horse on the streets.

  • If you are riding your horse, it is a vehicle and you can be ticketed as the driver
  • If you are walking alongside your horse, you are a pedestrian and must follow pedestrian traffic laws.
  • Don’t ride your horse on roads where they are prohibited. Most freeways and toll roads will post signs prohibiting animals, farm equipment, and pedestrians.
  • Ride as close to the right side of the road as is safe. Horses move much slower than cars and must follow the rules of other slow moving vehicles.
  • Ride in the same direction as traffic. Unlike cars, however, horses can be ridden on bike trails and footpaths if local authorities allow it.
  • Stay out of yards and off private property. Not everyone will enjoy cleaning up after your horse.
  • Always use the proper hand signals. You may feel stupid signaling on a horse, but drivers behind you will appreciate it, and you’ll avoid many accidents.
  • Horses don’t have rear-view mirrors. They trust you to know what’s going on and not put them in danger. Know what’s coming up behind you at all times.
  • You should always ride single file on two-lane roads. Drivers may not have time to slow down to avoid you if you are riding two abreast and using the entire lane.
  • Just like car drivers, you are legally prohibited from using your cell phone while riding. It is distracting and accidents happen in a split second.
  • Don’t take young children or skittish horses on the road. Most people are considerate, but it only takes one jerk to honk the horn or rev a car engine to send your horse into a panic. It’s just not worth the risk.
  • Horseshoes can be slippery on pavement and concrete. Be careful.

For more rules of the road, please see complete listing of California Motor Vehicle Codes.

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