Island horse riders are speaking out in support of a police safety campaign that highlights the vulnerability of horses and riders on the road.

Western Isles police recently issued a warning urging drivers to be aware of horses, after concern from local riders about cars passing their animals too close and too fast.

Now island riders have explained their fear for their own safety – and that of other road users – with impatient drivers who don’t understand horse behaviour.

Gayle Taylor, a committee member of Lewis and Harris Riding Club, told this week (Monday September 24th): “Horses are flight animals – their instinct is to run or spook – and they can’t see behind them, so when a car gets too close and is revving, trying to pass, there’s a real danger the horse could kick back, injuring itself and the rider and damaging your car.

“People seem to want to hurry past and tend to get too close behind while they’re waiting. It’s inconsiderate and uneducated – don’t forget that it was horses and carts that paved the way for roads to be laid on the islands.”

Horses and their riders are considered to be vulnerable road users - as are cyclists and pedestrians - and police say that should be taken into account if passing them.

Western Isles area commander Chief Inspector Ian Graham said: "Horse riders have every right to be on the road and should be able to travel safely.

"I would encourage drivers to slow down to a maximum of 15 mph and leave at least a cars' width between their vehicle and the horse if possible.”

That’s a view which is shared by Gayle, who said: “If I had to give three basic pieces of advice, I would say slow down, give plenty space and take the time to allow everyone to be safe. It’s barely two minutes out of your day.

“We don’t have many bridleways so we have no choice but to use the main road, at least some of the time, as we go from place to place. I know some people say they slowed down and nobody said thank you, but don’t forget that if the horse is excited we can’t take a hand off the reins to wave.

"We will wave if we can, or nod as you pass, but we really are thankful – and I certainly wouldn’t be so scared on the roads if you would just slow down.”

Chief inspector Graham said: "We are planning to carry out proactive work on the roads in relation to safe driving around horses in the coming weeks.

"Anyone who is found not to have given sufficient space is putting themselves at risk of being charged with careless or even dangerous driving.”