I make no apologies for once again making the safety of horses and riders on our roads the focus of this month’s article; it is the anniversary of the death of a much loved horse on Lark Hill, Rochford, which sparked the Canewdon Equestrians to start their campaign for reduced speed limits on that road in particular, but also on ‘quiet’ roads, and to try to highlight the necessity for a better attitude towards horses on our roads. I have just listened to Jeremy Vine’s programme on Radio 2, in which he talked to Laura, who lost her beloved horse in that incident, and also to Alan Hiscox, BHS Director of Safety. I was so pleased to hear this subject discussed in the huge medium of Radio 2, even though it was an emotional experience, and not always for the right reasons. However, the fact that a man claiming to own 22 horses could phone the programme, literally shaking with anger at having been fined for abusive behaviour towards an equestrian riding in his village, demonstrated to me that education is most definitely the way forward! We will never teach people how to behave around horses by using a confrontational approach; it simply breeds more anger and abuse.
We were thrilled to welcome Alan Hiscox to our AGM in November. His lively presentation certainly demonstrated the need for action and education to help protect riders (I felt quite tearful after watching his opening film). His long experience with the mounted police; 26 years in the mounted branch, followed by 14 years as chief equitation officer at their training school, has certainly given him the necessary qualifications to speak with total insight about this subject. Alan inspires confidence; he has a calm, thoughtful approach to a subject which can be fraught with emotion, but he is working hard along with fellow organisations such as ourselves, in liaison with the Department of Transport, the Welsh Assembly, Road Safety Partnerships, Driving Instructors’ Associations, Institute of Advanced Motorists, local police traffic units, Road Safety Scotland, Highways England and more, to ensure road safety for vulnerable users remains a high profile, top priority challenge. There is no instant remedy to making roads safe for riders, and as much as people would like more, heavier penalties for thoughtless drivers, the really important thing is to educate people into understanding how our four-legged friends ‘tick’; their innate flight mechanism, and ultimately the fact that they are the innocent party in all this!
The BHS is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, and the focus of operations have changed immensely in that time. 40 years ago the first equestrian ‘incident’ was reported to them, and this began a steady development of a programme to help ensure horses and riders’ safety on the roads, from the first Riding and Road Safety Manual in 1978, to radio and TV adverts produced by the Department for Transport in 2002 to educate motorists on how to drive near horses. Other safety issues tackled have been the slippery road surface dressings which caused accidents and falls, as well as the promotion of fluorescent clothing for horses and riders to ensure they are highly visible, this actually following problems encountered with low flying helicopters! In 2010, BHS launched their Horse Accidents website, and this really has been the axis for our current drive for safety. Alan, in his presentation, explained that it is absolutely vital that all incidents are reported on this website, not only those with fatal or serious outcomes, but also the near misses, since this is the important data to back up any approach to government/highways authorities, and to validate the necessity for action. Incidentally, having mentioned the promotion of fluorescent clothing for riders, it is timely to mention that due to a generous donation from Stansted Airport, EBA were able to treat every person attending the AGM to a sparkling new high viz tabard to wear out riding!
Our AGM this year was even better than usual; I was so pleased to hear that 67 people attended; perhaps due to the famous cakes and endless pots of tea! Hopefully it was actually due to the fact that EBA are becoming an important force for bridleway matters in Essex. We have a good membership, well in excess of 500 people, and according to Alan, represent the ‘Gold Standard’ of local bridleway groups. Praise indeed! I glowed with pride, and I do nothing towards the operation of our group. Overall, I think this was a very satisfactory end to an important year for Essex Bridleways Association.