Does the Highway Code apply to horse riders?

The Highway Code is the official guide for road users for Great Britain. It applies to all road users including horse riders (Rules 49-55).

Some Highway Code provisions are legal requirements. Such provisions are identified by the words ‘must/ must not’. If a person disobeys one of these provisions they commit a criminal offence.

Failure to comply with the other provisions of the Code is not in a criminal offence. However, the Road Traffic Act 1988 (RTA 1988) provides that a person’s failure to observe a Code provision may in court proceedings (whether civil or criminal and including proceedings for offences under the traffic Acts, the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 or ss 18 to 23 of the Transport Act 1985) be relied upon by any party to the proceedings as tending to establish or negate liability. The advisory provisions are identified with wording such as ‘should/ should not’ or ‘do/ do not’.

Which Highway Code provisions relate to horse riders?


The Code refers to the legal requirement imposed by the Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders) Act 1990 that all children under the age of 14 MUST wear a helmet which complies with the Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders Regulations) 1992. The Highway Code also refers to the legal requirement that such helmet MUST be fastened securely.

The Code advises other riders to follow these requirements.

The requirements do not, however, apply to children who follow the Sikh religion while wearing a turban.

Other clothing

The Code advises riders to wear boots or shoes with hard soles and heels, light-coloured or fluorescent clothing in daylight and reflective clothing when riding at night or in poor visibility.

Riding at night or in poor visibility

The Code advises riders that it is safer not to ride on the road at night or in poor visibility. Where a person does so, the Code says reflective clothing should be worn by the rider and that the horse should wear reflective bands above the fetlock joints.

The Code also advises that a light which shows white to the front and red to the rear should be fitted, with a band to the rider’s right arm and/ or their leg or riding boot.

Where a horse is being led at night, the Code says a light should be carried by the person leading the horse, showing white to the front and red to the rear. It also advises that reflective clothing be worn by both the person leading the horse and the horse itself. The Code strongly recommends that a fluorescent or reflective tail guard be worn by the horse in such circumstances.

Preparing a horse for riding

The Code advises riders to ensure that all tack fits well and is in good condition before taking a horse on to a road. It advises riders never to ride without both a saddle and bridle.

The Code also advises riders to make sure they are able to control the horse before taking it on to a road and if a rider thinks that their horse will be nervous of traffic, it advises that the rider ride with other less nervous horses.

Riding a horse on a road

The Code advises riders to look behind them, before riding off or turning, to make sure it is safe and then give a clear arm signal.

It also advises riders to:

  • keep to the left of the road;
  • keep both hands on the reins unless the rider is signalling;
  • keep both feet in the stirrups;
  • not to carry another person;
  • not to carry anything which may affect the rider’s balance or get tangled up with the reins;
  • keep a horse which is being lead to the rider’s left;
  • move in the direction of the traffic flow in a one-way street;
  • never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on busy or narrow roads and when riding round bends.

Footpaths and pavements

The Code refers to the legal requirement that a person MUST NOT take a horse onto a footpath or pavement. It is a criminal offence under the Highways Act 1935 to wilfully ride or lead or drive a horse on a footpath or causeway by the side of a road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers.

Cycle tracks, bridleways and equestrian crossings

The Code advises riders not to take a horse onto a cycle track, to use a bridleway where possible and to use equestrian crossings where available. The Code also advises riders to dismount at level crossings where a ‘horse rider dismount’ sign is displayed.


The Code advises riders to avoid roundabouts wherever possible. Where a rider does use a roundabout, the Code advises riders to:

  • keep to the left and watch out for vehicles crossing the path of the rider leaving and joining the roundabout;
  • signal right when riding across exits to show that the rider is not leaving;
  • signal left just before leaving the roundabout.
Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.