DRIVERS in South Ayrshire have been urged to drive safely when there are horses on the road.

A road safety campaign, ‘Lose the Blinkers!’ aimed at all road users, with particular emphasis on the urban roads of large towns, to tackle and reduce injuries and deaths as a result of vehicles passing too close to horses and their riders.

Launched by Police Scotland, in support from the British Horse Society, it was recorded that since 2010, there have been 148 incidents, with 10 horse fatalities, two rider fatalities, 43 horses injured, and 50 riders injured.

In an operation to address the problem of dangerous driving around horses, reporter Pippa Smith joined PC Michael Prout from Ayrshire’s Road Policing Unit, Sgt Alan Gilbert from Police Scotland’s mounted branch, with PC Kirsten Watson riding Police Horse Harris and PC Jill Rumsey riding Police Horse Lewis who rode in plain clothes to promote the initiative.

During the three-hour exercise, PC Watson and PC Rumsey rode up the A70 and into Coylton where a number of drivers were caught out either driving too close or driving too fast past Lewis and Harris – one driver, Mr Carlo Walker of Polar Refrigeration’s was commended by Sgt Gilbert for driving past the horses and their riders with ‘perfection.’

Sgt Gilbert explained: “This is a year-old campaign that we have carried out across the whole of Scotland, including Ayrshire, Aberdeen, the Scottish Boarders, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling.

“A lot of drivers say ‘why are they [horses and riders] on the road and unfortunately to get to the quieter roads for quiet hacking, they have to pass busier roads to get where they need to be.

“When we launched this campaign with the British Horse Society, we asked if there were any particularly bad areas where we could carry out the campaign and there has been hundreds and thousands of emails.

“There are a lot of people that will drive very carefully but there is that small minority of ignorance that tend to drive that way on every road that they are on. What you will see is that if the person leading the traffic when behind a horse and rider gives a wide birth, then the majority will follow.”

Many of the accidents that involved a vehicle and a horse have been due to vehicles either colliding or passing too close to the horse, causing them to throw the rider or to panic and bolt – when a horse is put in danger, there instinct is to turn their back end to use their back legs to ‘defend’ itself.

Sgt Gilbert added: “Vehicles travelling with a trailer are notorious for spooking horses with the rattling of the metal.”

Alan Hiscox, Director of Safety for the British Horse Society, said: “We want to remind drivers that horses can be unpredictable, and even the most well-trained horse can react to its instincts and want to move quickly away from what they consider to be a threat.

“It is worth remembering that there are three brains working when a horse and rider meet a vehicle on the road, the driver’s, the rider’s and the horses’.

“There is room for everyone on the road if we all show some consideration.”

During the Lose the Blinkers operation on Thursday, August 30, three drivers were stopped to be educated on the seriousness of driving to close to a horse and their rider, whilst two tickets were issued for a passenger allegedly not wearing their seatbelt and a driver allegedly being on their mobile phone.

Should you wish to suggest a particular area in the West of Scotland for ‘Lose the Blinkers’ to patrol, please email Julie Hanna of British Horse Society on who will liaise with Police Scotland.