On Saturday 18 October Access Volunteers, Equestrian Access Groups and BHS members travelled from all over the country to The British Horse Society’s Access Conference at the charity’s HQ in Warwickshire.
An annual event organised by the BHS Access department, the Access Conference is designed to provide volunteers and access enthusiasts with an update of the latest issues affecting equestrian access, as well as providing them with a chance to share any problems they’ve been having in their area and discuss solutions.
This year’s Conference included presentations and sessions on how to map routes digitally, gaining more equestrian access in urban areas, fundraising tips and an innovative invisible grazing fencing system in Epping Forest. Also included were smaller sessions on historical research and general access issues.
Delegates were encouraged to participate and learn from the knowledge of the speakers, and to share their own equestrian access experiences in their area.
The day finished with a debate between two speakers, discussing their opposing views on whether the use of unsealed highways by mechanically propelled vehicles is denying access to horse riders.
Following introductions from Mark Weston, BHS Director of Access, and Lisa Cowley, BHS Volunteer Manager, the first presentation of the day was led by Keith Hackett, Vice-Chairman of BHS Merseyside. Keith shared his first-hand experience of creating new off-road routes for horse riders in one of the UK’s largest urban areas.
Speaking about his presentation, Keith said, “I really enjoyed it. I wanted people to understand the circle where access and participation link – there’s no point having an urban situation with lots of bridleways and nobody there to ride them.
"I want riders to understand that urban routes aren’t scary just because they’re in cities. I’d also like equestrians to be included in new urban route planning from the beginning.”
Keith has also noticed a pleasing, and inspiring, trend in BHS Merseyside membership figures since developing their urban off-road access.
“We’ve been tracking our membership since we’ve been doing this programme of events, and we’re thrilled to see that it seems to have gone up and up based on the level of activity our committee and volunteers do!”
Adrian Bigg, BHS Regional Access and Bridleways Officer for the South West, delivered a fascinating presentation on the Memory Map system, detailing how volunteers can use the software to plot riding routes digitally. Adrian also delivered one of the day’s breakout sessions, where delegates were able to get hands-on experience using the software, and all left feeling informed and inspired to start mapping their routes electronically.
Joint authors of best-selling access book Rights of Way – Restoring the Record Sarah Bucks, Chair of the Society’s Access and Rights of Way Advisory Committee, and Dr. Phil Wadey, Historical Research Advisor, teamed up to provide delegates with an informative breakout session on how to get started with historical research.
Sarah and Phil’s session intended to encourage people to research routes in their area, and was a welcome delivery in light of the 2026 deadline and its implication on riding routes throughout the country.
Sarah said: “It’s important that people know that there are a large number of routes to apply for – certainly hundreds per county is not an under-estimate. We are seeking to correctly record routes that already have public rights.
"If everyone does something and we share the information, help each other and do as much as we are comfortable doing, then we will make progress. We want to encourage our volunteers. Just doing one Definitive Map Modification Order application is very helpful.”
For anyone interested in helping the BHS in its quest to get historic off-road riding routes recorded correctly on the Definitive Map, Rights of Way – Restoring the Record is available from the BHS Bookshop, and provides the perfect introduction for those getting started in research.
Delegates were invited to share their general access issues with Mark Weston, BHS Director of Access, and Geri Coop, BHS Special Projects Officer in their breakout session. Hugely popular with the attendants, Mark and Geri answered questions on a wide range of topics including what to do about bridleways with 'temporary' closures now extended for years; how to encourage greater communication and community action among riders locally; whether an online forum for Access Officers would be feasible; how to combat development pressure and loss of routes, especially where used for access to developments and what is the BHS doing nationally and politically to influence opportunities to increase equestrian access.
Geri said: “Judging by the amount of note-taking and immediate feedback, people in each session felt that they learned something worthwhile. Questions were all topics that crop up frequently in many Access Officers’ work and perhaps people present were reassured to find their intractable problem was not unique.”
The first presentation of the afternoon was delivered by William Reddaway, who completed a 2,700 mile ride around England with his horse Strider, raising over £68,000 in the process. William spoke to the delegates about his experiences both in fundraising and with the stunt itself.
“I wanted to get across that if you want to do something with your horse, get on and do it! Just because you’re not perfectly set up for it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it – whether it’s a fundraising activity, or even just trying something new.”
William also shared an interesting fact about his ride with us: “Strider was shod every three weeks over the course of the ride. The same farrier came out to us six times, and when he couldn’t we used another.
"Strider’s hooves were fantastic – they changed from being of average hoof quality to absolutely first rate. The farrier couldn’t believe it!”
Jeremy Dagley, Head of Conservation, Open Spaces Department, Epping Forest, City of London gave a interesting presentation on the history of Epping Forest, current management practices and the use of the common by horse riders.
Of particular interest was their innovative use of the Boviguard fencing system. This is a system that uses a buried antenna wire that removes the need for permanent fencing and gates where it is used. The cows wear a compatible receiver on a neck collar which emits an audible warning signal if the cow approaches the boundary, if the cow ignores this and goes closer it receives a short corrective impulse on its neck that is sufficient to send it back.
The rolling out of this system in respect of other commons that are facing fencing applications would be welcomed by the BHS so as to avoid the erection of self closing gates.
The day ended with a debate on whether the use of unsealed highways by motor/mechanically propelled vehicles is denying access to horse riders.
Patricia Stubbs from Peak Horsepower gave a strong speech on why she thought that motor vehicles were denying access to horse riders while Geoff Wilson, LARA North Regions Liaison, presented an equally strong case on the basis that, where horse riders feel that MPV use impacts on horse use of joint-user routes, then use management options should be investigated on a route-by-route basis. The results of a vote on the debate were 22 in favour, 10 against and 12 abstentions.
The BHS Access team was really pleased to see so many of our Access Officers, members of our affiliated Equestrian Access Groups and BHS members at the Conference.
Events like the annual Access Conference would be impossible to run without the support of our volunteers and members, so we hope that everyone who attended enjoyed the day.
If you're interested in receiving any presentations or handouts from the day, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.