The British Horse Society Ireland (BHS) have launched a new (free) guidance resource and video, to support the development of off-road equestrian access in Northern Ireland, and to encourage responsible sharing of public spaces by all who use them.
The BHS works proactively to facilitate and support safe off-road access for both horse riders and carriage drivers. The Society protects and promotes the interests of all horses and those who care about them, including 3 million people in the UK and 46,799 people in the Republic of Ireland who ride or who drive a horse-drawn carriage.
There are an estimated 34,250 horses in Northern Ireland, over 70% of which are kept for recreational purposes. Sadly, last year there were 66 horses killed on rural roads across the UK, 129 horses and 126 riders injured as a result of a collision with a vehicle.
Due to insufficient, safe off-road access for equestrians in Northern Ireland, the vast majority of equestrians are forced to use the road. Some hack to or transport a horse to an access site such as a forest or beach; however, these types of sites are not readily or sufficiently available throughout Northern Ireland.
The free guide “Enabling Equestrian Access in Northern Ireland” is aimed at stakeholders and the public to encourage the inclusion of equestrians in appropriate public spaces, along with technical advice and recommendation sections for planners.
The video aims to raise awareness of the need for responsible use by all users (primarily motorists, cyclists, walkers, and horse riders) in public shared spaces and demonstrates the BHS’s Dead Slow messaging on how to safely pass a horse on the road.
Heather Clatworthy, Senior Executive of Access & Rights of Way at The British Horse Society said “Enabling the delivery of shared, multi-user access for walkers, cyclists and horse riders across every local authority is a vital element of the future of public recreation in Northern Ireland. A total of under 1% of the Public Rights of Way network in Northern Ireland (known as Horse Country) provides for equestrians. The existing access provision on beaches, forests and permissive access is not enough”.
During the pandemic, public reliance on the outdoors for health and recreation increased significantly. The benefits of countryside access and horse riding not only to physical health, but also to mental health, and wellbeing are well proven. Increasing and enhancing access supports the Government’s aims to connect people with the environment to improve wellbeing, particularly in more remote and rural areas.
The 2019 Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) analysis of the NI Equine Industry concluded “a need for the development of additional infrastructure for accessible off-road routes and bridleways” and we are delighted to be working with DAERA and key stakeholders to ensure this is brought to fruition.
Susan Spratt, BHS Manager for Northern Ireland & Republic of Ireland commented “I encourage all equestrians to contact their local authorities and MLA’s to identify areas where access could be provided and to promote the use of this resource as a starting point to open discussions and enable access to be delivered. Remember, however you access the outdoors, to be responsible, be polite and say hi! Please watch and share the short video amongst friends.”
The BHS has welcomed support from Local Authorities who have embraced equestrian access which has included several popular multi-user sites across Northern Ireland, which are free to access and great examples for others to follow.