Horse riders in Northern Ireland are concerned horse riding could be banned from their beaches in the future.
Currently horses are allowed on beaches in the borough of Coleraine at all times during the winter, but are banned between 11am and 7pm from May to September.
But after receiving formal complaints about horses on the beaches, Coleraine Borough Council will be discussing possible enforcing further restrictions at a meeting next Tuesday (28 April).
The British Horse Society (BHS) Ireland has said it is “horrified” to learn of this.
BHS Ireland’s off-road riding development officer Heather Hoffman, said: “Increasing volume and speed of traffic on our roads is a national issue for equestrians and other vulnerable road users such as walkers and cyclists.
“Safe, accessible, off road riding is essential to riders and carriage-drivers throughout the UK. But with its lack of equestrian off-road routes and bridleways, riders in Northern Ireland are already significantly disadvantaged and therefore at heightened risk compared to the rest of the UK.”
Rider Julie Smith added: “I enjoy the beautiful scenery and space afforded by our beaches for pleasure riding, in particularly the White Rocks.
“It is a rare opportunity to get off the roads, which are becoming busier and more dangerous.”
But Coleraine Borough Council said there is currently no proposed ban.
“Coleraine Borough Council officers recently submitted information for councillors to consider if they wished to discuss restrictions of horse owners and their horses on the beaches,” said a spokesman.
“Discussions were to decide if officers are to investigate and commence consultation on the possibility of placing further, or any restrictions in the near future.
“Councillors will be meeting on Tuesday evening to discuss how they wish to proceed with this, if there should be consultation, or if the current practices should continue unchanged.”
But it is not only local riders that oppose the restrictions — the tourism industry could suffer from it too.
Philip White, who owns Maddybenny Stables in Coleraine said: “A large amount of our business comes from the equestrian tourism industry, and liveries choose to stable their horses here because we are so close to the White Rocks Beach.
“Denying horse riders access would have a detrimental impact not only on our equestrian business, but also the holiday cottages and B&B service we run.“
A committee of nine equestrian representatives’, including BHS Ireland, has been formed and will meet for the first time after the Council’s meeting on 28 April.
BHS Ireland suggests anyone who is concerned to the Coleraine Council and/or their local MLA.