During the summer of 2015, I hired a (wonderful) assistant and drove Duke into Almonte every Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting. There were some really important positive things that resulted. We had an unbelievable summer, the three of us, making our way around the district. We met so many neat people. I learned to trust Duke's instincts and his intellect in ways I never expected to. And my assistant, who went to grade twelve last fall, had the summer job that all her friends envied because it was different and fun, and involved the love of a really special horse.
Unfortunately, during the course of the summer we had some really frightening experiences as well.
So here is everything I know about the legalities of driving a carriage on the Queen's roads in Ontario:
1. Carriages are still covered by the Highway Traffic Act. There is reputed to be a clause held over from 1928 that gives a horse drawn vehicle absolute right of way in all situations. I never found that clause, although I tried. What I did find is the clause that gives ANY VEHICLE with a slow moving vehicle orange triangle affixed to the back THE ABSOLUTE right of way. So that big combine travelling down the road and Duke have the same rights.
2. Just because we have the RIGHT to lane hog does not mean the police will back us up if we do. We would prefer to be on the pavement at all times, because gravel can wear down Duke's hooves, and give him sore tired feet when he gets home. However, from being motor vehicle drivers ourselves we know that slow moving vehicles can be frustrating, and we will move off to the shoulder where possible to allow traffic to pass. Sometimes we can't, due to guard rails etc. But we do try. And the police expect us to be considerate.
One very warm Sunday morning, my assistant and Duke and I were walking (Duke was walking, we were sitting) along March Road, the main road from Ottawa into Almonte. I noticed a car out of the corner of my left eye that was making pace with us, which only subconsciously seemed weird, and my main thought watching the car in my peripheral vision was "wow, what an ugly paint job". And then it pulled forward a little bit. The driver rolled the passenger window down and asked if she could talk to us. That was when I noticed the lights on the top of the car...........
When the officer approached my side of the carriage, I said "this can't possibly be a speeding ticket". My comment made us all laugh, and it turned out she was responding to a complaint. About us being on the road. She was required to talk to us because a formal complaint existed. She was a nice lady doing her job. We chatted for awhile, wherein she applauded our courtesy and knowledge of the law, and then off she went to report back to the complainant. And we didn't get a speeding ticket.
If you love horses and love the sight of them on our roads and byways, here is how you can help:
1. Allow at least as much following distance as you would for a semi-trailer, which is about twenty feet. That way when you have the opportunity to pass, you aren't too boxed in to do so.
2. Please don't pass when there is oncoming traffic - that puts us all at risk.
3. When you do pass, move fully into the oncoming lane. Don't crowd close to us. We are legally a vehicle and you are entitled to be in the oncoming lane in order to pass.
4. When you pull back into the traffic lane ahead of us, please remember that Duke is a living being and if you clip his head with your car, however unintentional, he can die. Pull well forward and make sure you can see us clearly in your rear view mirror before pulling back into the traffic lane.
5. It is fantastic when people wave, and we will gladly smile and wave for pictures taken from the safe vantage of a passenger seat. It's great. However, if you honk your horn at a horse, even in support, you can badly frighten him and distract him from what he is supposed to be doing. Well, not Duke, but some other horse.
We love being out in public. We love showing off our horses. And we try not to be a nuisance. We hope you enjoy us too.