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An MP in Northern Ireland has taken to the saddle to see for herself the dangers facing riders exercising horses on roads.

Northern Ireland has only 14 miles of unconnected bridleways — less than half a per cent of those in the rest of the UK.

Democratic Unionist Party MP Iris Robinson is calling for more bridleways and improved off-road facilities for riders.

“We are desperately short of bridle paths and suitable areas to exercise horses,” said Mrs Robinson. “And the roads are becoming too dangerous — even the most experienced riders have extreme difficulty.”

And the MP recently spent a day at a stables to see the problems at first hand.

“I was accompanied by an instructor who wore high-vis clothing and slowed traffic to a crawl, but it was very daunting,” said Mrs Robinson, who wants disused footways to be opened to equestrians, and for new bridleways to be established.

British Horse Society (BHS) Ireland is backing Mrs Robinson’s campaign.

Development officer Susan Irwin told H&H: “This is essential — off-road riding is mainly on land managed by the Northern Ireland Forest Service, the National Trust, two BHS Ireland toll rides and a few beaches.”

Rider Valerie McKie is based in the Ards Pensinsula. She said: “Traffic is increasing, and of the small number of bridle paths that do exist, most are very short and lead nowhere — we definitely need more.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (22 October, ’09)