With the seasons changing to warmer weather months, Port Alberni horseback riders say there will be more horses and riders trotting along roadways around the Alberni Valley.
Cheryl Oickle and Terry Reynolds are members of the Port Alberni Chapter of the Back Country Horsemen of B.C. who want to spread awareness about road safety and education for motorists when passing a horse on the roadside. Educating motorists on sharing the road with horses is important knowledge that drivers need to know to ensure safety for all, they said.
“There’s lots of horseback riders in Port Alberni. Our group has 22 or 23 senior members but there’s private people all over Alberni that have horses,” Oickle said.
“We’re seeing more and more on the road all the time.”
The message the group wants motorists to know is to “pass slow and wide” around horses.
“I have landed in a ditch and it’s not a nice place to be,” Oickle said.
“We’re just trying to get our message out there about being respectful; they’re big animals, pass wide and slow on any of our roads,” said Oickle, who rides her 14-year-old horse, Jewel, almost every day.
Common areas in the Valley where riders will take their horses are the Beaver Creek area, particularly around McLean Mill, the Cherry Creek area and the Sproat Lake area.
“We have some of the same rights that drivers do,” Oickle said. “But our responsibility with the horses is to make sure we’re well seen and that we have as good of control as we can of that horse. We never have 100 per cent control because they’re a prey animal and they could explode in a heart beat.”
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A person riding an animal or driving an animal on a highway has the rights and is subject to the duties of the driver of a vehicle, according to the Motor Vehicle Act of B.C.
Reynolds, of the BCHBC, has been riding horses for more than 40 years and lobbied the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to post road signs, indicating the possible presence of a horse and rider on the road, in areas around the Alberni Valley where horses and riders are most commonly seen.
Reynolds was determined to get road signs in the Valley after a member of the BCHBC was injured last summer when her horse fell over, squishing her leg, because of a motorist driving by too close and too quickly, frightening the horse.
Reynolds’s lobby was successful. Six bright yellow signs, depicting a rider on a horse, were erected by the Ministry of Transportation in December 2015 around the Cherry Creek, Beaver Creek and Sproat Lake areas.
Reynolds and other members of the BCHBC are “very happy” to have the new signs up.
Port Alberni’s Colleen Jansma has been riding horses in the Alberni Valley for 35 years and said as a horseback rider you need to know your responsibilities when navigating a horse on the road just as she hopes a motorist will know their responsibilities.
“Horses are fight-or-flight animals, so you’re going to get a larger movement out of them,” Jansma said.
She said horses can be frightened easily by sudden sounds or loose gravel hitting their bodies and may leap to one side or run away.
Jansma teaches her 12-year-old daughter that horses are considered vehicles and to acknowledge the drivers as they pass.
“Give a wave, give a nod and say hey, thanks,” she said.
Jansma emphasized that as horseback riders “we know our responsibilities, it’s just educating the other people.”