PONTOTOC COUNTY, Miss. (WTVA) -- Pontotoc County Sheriff Leo Mask calls a Sunday morning accident along Highway 346 a "rare occurrence."
Johnny Merritt, 63, of Ecru was riding his horse along the highway when an 18-wheeler struck them both, killing Merritt.
"It appears that the horse maybe was spooked and leapt in front of the truck as it was passing," Mississippi Highway Patrol Trooper Ray Hall said.
Preliminary findings indicate the driver even moved over to give the horse and his rider more room once he saw them, according to Hall.
Many may be surprised to learn that no law on the books in Mississippi requires that, though.
"If there is someone riding the horse, it's not considered a vehicle, and it's basically treated as a pedestrian. If they're in a buggy, it would be considered a vehicle just like a bicycle," Hall said. "We do have laws that deal with vehicles on the roads, but horses would not fall under that category."
The John Paul Frerer Bicycle Safety Act -- which requires oncoming traffic to keep at least three feet away from cyclists on roadways -- wouldn't apply here either, according to state law.
Mask says he feels that's a problem.
"It looks like, if you're gonna do it with bikes, the horses are as common as bikes here in Pontotoc."
That's probably because Pontotoc County is also home to one of the biggest Amish communities in Mississippi, and for those residents, riding a horse remains their primary source of transportation.
And as long as the horse and rider are considered pedestrians, Hall said the law will not change.
"There's no other law that tells us we have to yield to pedestrians, except at crosswalks," Hall said. "Of course, obviously we're good defensive drivers. We're going to look out for pedestrians."
Mask said within the last 15 years, Pontotoc County has seen at least two other accidents involving horseback riders.
One of those was fatal.
Authorities urge those who do ride their horses along roadways to use extreme caution because they say even the most highly-trained animal can become easily startled.