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Roads are for vehicles, right?
Actually, much like bicyclists, horseback riders have rights to the roadways as well, but equestrians in town point out that motor vehicle operators need to be made aware of the rights of equestrians, and start following the rules of the road.
Dee Davis, who has been on the Newtown Bridle Lands Association (NBLA) board for more than three decades, and is in her third year as president of the NBLA, hears about traffic-related riding issues members have at least on a weekly basis, and has experienced some of these problems, which include drivers spooking horses by driving too close, speeding, revving engines, yelling, and honking the horn.
“We’ve had people quit riding horses because they’re just terrified they’re going to get hit,” Ms Davis said. “It’s scary riding horses out there.”
Ms Davis said she was almost hit while riding on Orchard Hill Road.
“My horse went absolutely nuts and I almost got thrown off the horse onto the road into oncoming traffic,” Ms Davis recalls.
Traffic has increased throughout the years, Ms Davis said, making it harder for equestrians to use the roads.
“I have had friends that have actually moved out of Newtown because it’s not safe,” said Ms Davis, who continues to live in town but now rides her horse at Happy Trails Farm on Mountainville Road in Danbury, where speed bumps to slow and signs to alert drivers are in place.
“There’s much more respect of horses in the road in a city than in a beautiful town I’m proud to live in,” Ms Davis said.
Ms Davis notes that some drivers are very polite and leave lots of space, but that some motor vehicle operators drive closely, rev engines, lay on the horn, or yell out the window to be spiteful. This can be dangerous given the circumstances.
“It’s a very powerful animal that we control with a small bit in its mouth. If something terrifies them, their first instinct is to run to be safe,” Ms Davis said.
Ms Davis points to Connecticut Riding on Public Roads Statutes and Regulations statutes detailing responsibilities of motor vehicle operators when approaching equestrians. This includes “Sec. 14-293b-1. When approaching a horse with a vehicle: Each operator of a vehicle approaching a person riding a horse on a public highway shall reduce speed, proceed with caution, or stop if necessary, to avoid endangering the equestrian or frightening or striking the horse.”
According to Sec. 14-293b-2: “Noises prohibited: No operator of a vehicle in the vicinity of an equestrian and horse may blow a horn, or cause loud or unusual noises, in a manner to startle or frighten the horse.”
“It’s our right. We have a right to be on the road,” Ms Davis said.
Likewise, equestrians have to follow rules of the road. A brochure on the Connecticut Horse Council, Inc webpage, cthorsecouncil.org, “Horse Safety For Motor Vehicle Drivers And Equestrians” details the rules drivers and riders must follow.
According to the brochure, equestrians must ride on the right shoulder, in single file, with the flow of traffic, but when leading a horse, they must walk against the flow of traffic, like other pedestrians; when a car approaches on a dirt or other narrow road, they should stop to let the car pass; and not intentionally impede the flow of traffic.
Barbara Gaydosh and Brenda Majeski are also NBLA members and both reside on Huntingtown Road, where they ride regularly, and often have issues with traffic.
Ms Majeski was recently yelled at by a driver, and told she does not belong on the road on horseback.
“I was called all kinds of colorful names,” Ms Majeski said.
Horses are not allowed on limited access highways, and these equestrians point out that the back roads on which they ride should be suitable for horses.
“It’s not like it’s Route 25. It’s a rural road,” Ms Gaydosh said of Huntingtown Road.
When there are bends in the road, a driver may encounter any number of things, from a fallen branch to a broken down car … to a horse.
“People zip around turns and all of a sudden, ta-da, you are there,” Ms Majeski noted.
“It’s kind of scary when you think about it — not only for a horse, but for pedestrians out there, people on bicycles, people with strollers,” said Ms Gaydosh, before leaving her barn on Skye for a ride on the road during a late-September sunny afternoon.
Ms Gaydosh and Ms Majeski said a majority of drivers slow down, and that some even wave hello.
“Some drivers are oblivious or they don’t care and it can be really dangerous,” Ms Majeski added. “I think we can share the road if we all follow the rules.”