MOUNTED police have gone undercover to target drivers who are putting horses at risk.
Police Scotland’s covert Lose the Blinkers operation is the first of its kind in the UK and was launched after statistics revealed two riders and 10 horses have died on Scotland’s road in the last eight years. Another 50 riders and 43 horses have been hurt.
An operation involving two unmarked police horses, Lewis and Harris, led to more than 20 cars being stopped during the two-and-a-half-hour operation in Torrance, East Dunbartonshire earlier this month.
One driver who didn’t slow down for the horses got more than a word of warning after he was spotted stuffing something into his trousers after he had stopped his Honda Civic. He was found to be in possession of a suspected controlled drug and was handed a recorded police warning.
Two other drivers received fixed penalties for not wearing seat belts – being on horseback gave officers a clear view into their vehicles.
The Lose the Blinkers campaign was launched last year after the British Horse Society released statistics on the number of horses and riders killed or injured on Scotland’s roads. It is headed up by Sergeant Alan Gilbert from Police Scotland’s mounted unit.
He said: “It’s getting a lot of positive feedback. We’re always busy when we go out. Most are just given advice but if they’re dangerous then they’ll get a ticket.
“There has been a similar campaign in England using mounted officers in uniform but this is the first one that’s been covert.”
Sgt Gilbert targets areas where riders have reported incidents and he has been inundated with requests. Officers visited Torrance after an incident of dangerous driving involving a lorry was reported to police in June.
PCs Clare Hunter and Scott Jarvie riding Clydesdales Lewis, 11, and six-year-old Harris, were selected because they are not alarmed by vehicles.
PC Hunter radioed ahead to an unmarked police car whenever a driver failed to follow The Highway Code’s advice to pass horses “wide and slow”. Drivers were then pulled over further down the road and offered advice and given a Lose the Blinkers leaflet.
PC Michelle Mooney of Police Scotland’s road policing unit was at the wheel of the unmarked car. She also flagged down cars and spoke to drivers when a backlog built up.
The first motorist – an elderly man in a silver Toyota – was stopped just seconds into the operation after PC Hunter reported that he’d driven too close to the horses. In total, 19 drivers and a motorcyclist were given a road safety warning.
Sgt Gilbert said: “I tell them it’s going to be educational and that they need to show a bit of patience. If it means waiting a couple of minutes then so be it.
“Most say they didn’t realise. They don’t appreciate how quickly a horse can come into the path of a car. And horse riders have got to be careful on the roads as well.”
Most drivers accepted the police advice graciously, with the motorcyclist telling Sgt Gilbert: “Tell the riders I’m really sorry.”
Horse riders can also face a charge of culpable and reckless conduct if their actions are to blame for an accident on the roads.