With the draw of warmer weather and brighter days beckoning people to spend more time outdoors, drivers in the Nicola Valley are reminded to be alert and aware of their fellow four-legged road users.

Under BC’s ‘Motor Vehicle Act,’ both horses and their riders are recognized as road users. This means drivers and pedestrians making use of public roads must share the roadways and make appropriate space for horses.

“Whether you are driving a vehicle, riding a motorcycle or bicycle, or jogging, be aware that horses are big, powerful ‘flight’ animals,” says Brian Marriott, president of Back Country Horsemen of BC.

Marriott added that once spooked, horses often respond by taking off uncontrolled, and may even begin to act erratically and aggressively due to a ?feeling of danger and a lack of comfort in the situation.

“If startled by a fast-moving motor vehicle, or silently speeding cyclists or joggers coming up behind them, a horse or mule may ‘spook.’ They could then buck, rear, or go from a standstill to a full-speed gallop in a split second. Motorists who don’t respect horse owners’ rights to share the road put horses, riders, themselves and other motorists at risk of serious injury, even death.”

A recent press release by the Province’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) says the onus is on both drivers and riders to stay safe while making use of roads, especially those that may be narrow or winding.

While signs alerting drivers to exercise caution and courtesy around their fellow road users are abundant in the Nicola Valley, the MOTI advises everyone to be aware of horses and their riders in all situations.

Preventative measures such as slowing down before getting close to horses, passing at slow speeds with a one-car wide berth, and avoiding excessive noise such as honking or music can lower the risk of an accident for a mode of transportation that is increasing in popularity.

“Consideration for the environment, increasing fuel costs, and lack of access to a truck and trailer have made road riding a favorable choice for many,” explains Sarah Allison, recreation director for the Horse Council of BC.

“Riders, and drivers of horse-drawn carriages, may need to be on the road to get from one farm to another, from a stable to a trailhead, or because the road itself forms one section of an established equestrian trail.”

If a horse is spooked or appears to be out of control, MOTI says to wait for the rider to get the animal back under control before passing and accelerating gradually.