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Eight livery stables and riding schools in Oswestry, Shropshire, have received a letter from the local council requesting they clean up the mess left by their horses.

The letter cites complaints from residents about dung on Primrose Lane and Tregarthen Lane in Pant.

It says: “The council will continue to clean the highway…as part of our continuing working schedule”. But adds: “We would like to point out that you have a duty of care to clean up after your horses.”

Director of community services for Oswestry Borough Council, Dave Jones, said this has always been the council’s policy, and the round robin letters dispatched in early September were provoked by a complaint made on behalf of a local wheelchair user who had struggled to pass down dirtied roads.

Mr Jones added: “A farmer has a duty of care to clean up any mud on the road from his tractor, so what’s the difference?”

Julie Phillips was one recipient of the letter. She was unaware that she had a duty of care.

“Horse muck usually just disappears when there’s rainfall,” she said. “Are we supposed to come home from a ride, then go back out in the car to pick up the mess?”

Mrs Phillips and her daughter each keep a horse at private stables on Primrose Lane. She replied to the council stating that the mess was unlikely to have been left by her horse as the sullied area was too close to home.

“Normally my horse travels for a while before relieving itself,” she said. “And my daughter’s horse never poos when out on a hack.”

Penycoed Riding Stables on Llynclys Hill, which has 23 horses, also received the letter.

“I felt pretty disgruntled when I read it as there are hundreds of horses in the area,” said proprietor Pam Hanson, who went out to examine the contentious dung.

“It definitely wasn’t from our horses as ours are grass fed,” she said. She added that her horses tend to foul the riding school’s own driveway “as they like to empty within 60 yards of the stables”.

A spokesman for nearby Herefordshire Council said that, as in Oswestry, riders in its region have the “duty of care” to clean up the dung.

But Chester City Council said there was no statutory obligation on anyone — the council or riders — to clean up horse muck.

“The situation has never arisen but if it was causing a problem or a nuisance in the main shopping thoroughfare we would clear it up,” he said. “But we don’t have an obligation to as we would with dog or human excrement.”

Redditch Borough Council in Worcestershire said it had a similarly relaxed policy.

“It’s not an offence for a rider to leave the mess. If someone reported the dung to us we would clear it up.”

This new story was first published in Horse & Hound (11 October, ’07)