On a cool, blustery May morning, five intrepid Field Officers from Oxfordshire County Council’s Countryside Access Team (CAT) joined members of the local BHS committee to see for themselves the problems of opening some bridleway gates on horseback. This was definitely a "hands on" experience, as the field officers rode horses themselves – some for the first time, others for the first time in years.
The session was to mark Access Week in Oxfordshire, and also saw the CAT presented with a BHS Access Award certificate. The award was given for an imaginative solution for horseriders, cyclists and walkers on a steep section of bridleway/Thames Path near Whitchurch.
The lovely horses used for the field session, Romany and Pogo, were kindly provided by Sam and Nico van den Berg from Huntersfield Equestrian Centre near Faringdon. Sam is a BHS Oxfordshire committee member and her enthusiasm and support quickly put the novice equestrians at ease. The field officers took it in turns to ride, being led to some tricky bridleway gates which included barbed wire and tight spaces without room to manoeuvre. Even being led, with the gates being opened for them, the team could easily appreciate the difficulties riders encounter in these sorts of situations.
The field officers could see how a rider needs to be aware at all times of their mount, the weather, and the conditions around the gate, plus just how difficult it can be to open and close a gate that is in poor condition or badly hung, with inappropriate or missing handles, or a fast swingback mechanism.
On returning to the yard, the Access Award Certificate was presented to Dan Weeks, one of the field officers present. He commented (while still mounted on Romany) that he and his colleagues had learned a lot from seeing for themselves some of the issues that riders face on the bridleways. This excellent session helped build on the good relationship between the BHS and the Countryside Access Team in Oxfordshire.