It is a roller coaster ride in the bridleways business. We are becoming acutely aware after a couple of incidents that, despite our Better Bridleways for Essex campaign in 2016, County Hall are not as supportive as they may have liked to suggest at the time. There is literally NO budget for bridleway creation, and it also seems there are no plans at all for bridleways within major housing developments, regardless of whom is funding the project. The stated reason for this was the possibility that horses might meet up with pedestrians or cyclists (what about our multi-use paths?). It is also now considered imperative for any proposed new paths to be in close proximity to existing bridleways, creating links or circular routes. We have also become uncomfortably aware of the consideration that any bridleway which has been claimed against user evidence as opposed to historic proof, has been deemed by ECC to be non-maintainable by public funding. We have just heard of another bridleway along the old railway track at Stow Maries which has been closed by a temporary order due to an unsafe bridge. Naturally, the landowner is not keen to pay for repairs, so that remains another issue.
We will however, continue our pursuit of new and safer routes for our riders! Our Development officers are shortly joining BHS representatives from Essex and Cambridgeshire to discuss ways forward. It seems that Cambridgeshire is in tune with the needs of equestrians, and now all user groups are included in plans for new routes created via development. Surely we can achieve similar recognition here in Essex?
The BHS Ride Out UK Month attracted 61 events during May, in celebration of our love of hacking and the importance of public awareness of riders, whilst at the same time raising funds for the all-important Paths for Communities Fund. Here in Essex, we are very familiar with, and very expert at raising the hugely necessary funds to help us with our work, but it is good to see more areas of the country getting together and getting out to raise funds and show that we have a large and keen population of Happy Hackers.
BHS have followed this up during June, by launching at the Houses of Parliament, a virtual reality film which is aimed at raising awareness of the safety issues horse riders face on Britain's roads. The film aims to give drivers first-hand experience of how it feels to be riding a horse when a car passes, either too fast or too close. Additionally, it demonstrates what a driver experiences when approaching a horse in a vehicle travelling too fast. Also, to complete the picture, the correct way to pass a horse in a vehicle is explained.
Recommendations to drivers remain as:
Slow to a maximum of 15 mph;
Pass the horse wide and slow, giving at least a car's width where possible;
Drive slowly away.
I probably keep telling you these statistics, but they do focus our attention; since the end of 2010, 39 riders have died and 230 horses have been killed or euthanized due to road traffic accidents, and reported incidents involving horses were 2,914.
The very active Canewdon riders' Group held an Awareness Ride to help promote safety for riders on the road during June. I was so pleased to see they were well supported by very important allies, in the form of Mark Francois, MP, as well as local councillors. They are determined to see a reduced speed limit on the notorious Lark Hill in Canewdon. Mark Francois reaffirmed his support, stating that he hoped ECC could be persuaded to introduce a lower speed limit on that road, which is frequently used by horse riders.
In the hope of future shared routes, it is really important to educate cyclists to understand the horse's psyche, and a recent incident during the Windsor triathlon highlighted this issue. Cyclists were seen to pass a horse closely, at speed on the inside, causing some injury as well as a very frightening situation for both horse and rider. Cyclists are asked to alert riders to their presence on approach, to avoid startling and upsetting even the most placid of steeds.