Riders across the country have been calling for safer off-road hacking routes as many claim they are forced to ride on dangerous roads.
Forty riders marched through Wokingham last month (27 May) to promote the “Routes for All” petition, which aims to increase off-road access to 30% of the rights of way network.
“Across the UK the percentage of rights of way for horses and cyclists is only 22%,” Nicola Greenwood of Wokingham Bridleways Group told H&H.
“We have some beautiful bridleways but you have to ride on a busy road to get to them.
“A lot of riders across the country are struggling for access in a similar way.”
Ms Greenwood’s pony Darcy was killed eight years ago after being hit by a van.
“It builds up to a point where you have to do something,” she said.
The group hope the petition will reach 100,000 signatures so it can be presented to the Government.
Meanwhile, in other parts of the UK riders have successfully restored old bridleways that had become inaccessible.
In the North York Moors a vital bridleway link was restored following the opening of a new bridge last month (20 May).
However, several riders told H&H they are too scared to leave their yard.
Chris Parker from Chobham, Surrey, had a serious accident 20 years
ago when a driver hit her horse Morgan.
Ms Parker broke her leg and Morgan was put down.
“Off-road riding is essential — drivers do not seem as considerate as they used to be and it’s getting quite scary,” she said.
The British Horse Society (BHS) recently organised “access week” (16-26 May) to highlight the importance of safe off-road hacking.
“For every person who has had an accident there are probably 50 who have had one or more near misses and given up road riding,” said Geri Coop of the BHS.
The organisation helped instate a number of off-road routes last year, but the society is concerned as the total number of off-road routes is depleting.
“Routes are being lost to development or have become unusable because link roads are too dangerous to cross,” said Ms Coop. “Others have been converted to cycle routes.”
She explained that creating a new bridleway is a complex and often lengthy process.
“New rights can be granted without any prior use of the route by a creation order or agreement, or by express dedication at common law,” she said.
She added it is rare that a landholder is willing to dedicate a new bridleway.
The BHS warns there will be fewer off-road routes for riders in the future.
“Cuts to local authority budgets are massive and as surfaces fail they will not be maintained,” said Ms Coop.
The organisation stresses that it is essential for riders to make sure bridleways and byways are registered to ensure they remain accessible.
Each highway authority keeps a definitive map of public rights of way, which is the formal legal record of their existence. Routes not recorded on this map by a 2026 “cut-off date” introduced by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 could be extinguished.
The BHS is also asking equestrians to help raise money for its new BHS Paths for Communities fund, which will help provide multi-user routes, bridleways and byways. For more information call: 02476 840467.