I am surprised at how many people I see doing this wrongly (my experience being an ex-horse owner and now hiker in the UK).

What is the correct way to traverse a field containing horses?

Let's exclude the different trespass laws and property defence laws in different countries - here in the UK we do have rights of way that cross fields with horses and livestock: my question is focused on the safety and welfare of the horse and the person traversing the field.


3 Answers 3


Often in British countryside you'll find fields with horses in (and cows and much of this is applicable to bovine) where it is unavoidable or rather difficult to go a different way and the are a few things to be aware of. Usually you'll be heading over something similar to this:

Credit to geograph.org.uk

As public rights of way here allow footpaths through any field, garden, park, etc etc. I've walked through many a front or back garden whilst people are sitting out in summer (Kinda awkward!) but it's how footpaths work here.

Firstly if you do come across a field with horses in, before entering the field take a good look around you, if the horses are far away, then enter the field and keep yourself, any children, or dogs close to you, with dogs on a lead (though child leads are not uncommon for toddlers!). Walk around the edge of the field to the other exit. Try and keep children and animals quiet too.

Pretty simple if that's the case, but not always will it be so.

If the horses are scattered, stick to your chosen path around the field. Don't think to cut across unless you feel confident and it's not a large field.

If it's muddy, which is common, try not to make a lot of fuss, I've seen horses spook at their own shadows.

If the horses are close to the gates, never fear. Actually that's a valid point and not a saying. Don't act skittish, keep your head up, don't make eye contact and sensibly navigate the horses keeping to the front, a bite is better than a kick.

Always avoid approaching the horses where possible, and definitely don't bother feeding them (most likely they're going to be on strict diets and an apple from every stranger won't help!).

If you're cycling through horse fields the above is all completely applicable, but the best advice I can add is to dismount and walk around calmly.

Also bear in mind that in the UK people can possibly be riding in these fields, I used to gallop down the fields in summer and often had to deal with people who did not look around before rushing out into our fields.

  • 2
    Here in Canada there's no such thing as a public path on private land. Are there any other places that have the same public rights of way as the UK?
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 18:06
  • 1
    @ShemSeger Your statement is incorrect as I almost bought a house in Northern Ontario(Private Property) but it had an Easement for the Bruce Trail.
    – AM_Hawk
    Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 20:35
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    @gerrit if you were too scared to just walk past the cows then hopping the fence was probably your only option. Bovine can be intimidating due to size, and if they have calves. I've never hopped a fence due to cows moving in a field, just walked passed them, I've avoided their fields completely due to calves when we had a dog with us. But that's it. However as I state my answer is for if it was unavoidable or difficult, you did have another field as an option :)
    – Aravona
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 4:45
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    Also only the common sense of above is applicable to bovine, cows do have traits horses do not. How to deal with stampeding cows would be a question all on it's own.
    – Aravona
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 4:50
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    @anonymous2 totally! Or maybe there was meant to be another comma :P
    – Aravona
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 19:16

I don't know how this is in other countries, but here in Austria you usually don't cross a fenced area but rather walk around it.

As a horse owner myself I also wouldn't want any stranger wandering in the fields where my horse is.

Horses are flight animals and therefore they usually flee from any unknown or suspicious things. But domestic horses could react different, because they have learned that humans give them food and pet them. So it could be that some horses don't flee or ignore you, but come to look if you have something to eat or simply to get pet. It depends on your actions and your body language how horses react if they are near you. They will know if you are afraid or unsure. For example, if the horse is very confident and it realises that you are afraid then it could be that it simply 'attacks' you to get something to eat or to defend it's own personal space and thereby clarify it's ranking in the herd.

Even though I know how to handle horses, I would never walk on a field containing horses I don't know.

And please, never feed someone else's animals

Edit: Just for completeness, the only place I know where it is common to cross fields where animals (mostly cows) stand, is in the mountains. But there the animals live more or less free on huge areas, often even without any fences. And they are used to hikers and most of the time they just ignore you. And there my sugestion is, to just ignore them back. Don't look at them and don't call them.

  • Interesting - in the UK ususally there's public footpaths straight through animal fields regardless of who owns the animals or fields. These footpaths even go through peoples gardens. You simply hop the style and cross (hence my writing this question as most people don't do so correctly around horses). As an ex-horse owner I've experienced everything from people to dogs to sheep to bikers coming through our fields.
    – Aravona
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 13:31
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    That's really interesting. Here in Austria the public paths usually go around the egdes of the fields. This paths are also used by the farmers to drive to their fields with their tractors.
    – katho2404
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 13:37
  • Some here do some don't and most people cut across anyway, I had horses for 5 or 6 years an you'd be surprised how many times a loose dog would come through over a style - I added a picture so you can see more of how it works :)
    – Aravona
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 13:40

Here in the US, "horses in a field" would imply the field is fenced. That means you should stay out.

There is one exception, which is if you know the land is public property and it's OK to walk on it. This is often the case with cattle on BLM and Forest Service land in the western US. In that case, there will be fences with gates, or roads crossing cattle guards. Just continue following the road or path, but be sure to leave any gate the way you found it. Cattle will usually just ignore you, but I wouldn't get deliberately closer on foot. Bulls can sometimes be aggressive.

  • Interesting, US field are understandably much bigger than ours too. With cattle we have a simple enter at own risk rule as the farmers cannot legally stop you going on the public footpath, but they do stick signs up.
    – Aravona
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 13:55
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    @Aravona: Large areas of National Forests and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land in the western US are leased for ranching. You commonly see dried cow plops while hiking, even in fairly remote places. Encountering live cattle is much rarer, but it happens. I have personally never encountered a horse in such places that wasn't actively tended by humans at the time. Horses with riders or in a pack train are not unusual, but I've never encountered free-ranging horses, even in a large fenced area. You'll be lucky to see wild horses at all, even at a distance. Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 14:02
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    @OlinLanthrop We do have wild horses here as well, and they will come up onto roads even, I've not seen them do so personally, on the news now and then, but they'll come right up to the roads as there's no fences around where they are. In fields here the footpaths can go straight through, not even around the edges :) hence my self answer.
    – Aravona
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 14:06
  • 2
    UK has quite large herds of semi wild horses, places like dartmoor and the new forest.
    – user2766
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 14:06
  • @Olin Lathrop: Where I live (northwestern Nevada) it's quite common for me to encounter herds of a dozen or two wild horses when out hiking in particular areas. Never a problem - they just move away if you get within a hundred feet or so. Often run into open-range cattle where I ride my own horses, but again, not a problem.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 19:10

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