There may be fresh hope for competitors grappling with EU rules limiting the hours they can drive their horsebox at the weekends.

Current regulations require anyone driving a vehicle, or combination of vehicles, exceeding 7.5tonnes to limit the time they spend driving their horses at the weekend.

This is because European law states that the hours you spend working during the week — even if your work has no connection with horses or driving — have an impact on the time you can spend behind the wheel at the weekend.

Transport minister Mike Penning has written to H&H (see Letters, p12, 16 June), saying he hopes to solve this conundrum by lobbying for an exemption for equestrians.

“I realise that the EU regulation on drivers’ hours is causing problems for drivers of horseboxes over 7.5tonnes used on a non-commercial basis,” he writes. “In particular, I understand this has caused problems for drivers in taking the required weekly rest when travelling to non-commercial events at the weekend.

“Given the continuing difficulties caused by these rules, I am writing to the European Commission to enquire about the possibility of a limited exemption.”

A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesman confirmed Mr Penning’s letter had been sent.

She added: “There’s not been one particular case that has prompted the minister to take this step — it’s just the new administration coming in and looking at concerns.”

The Organisation of Horsebox and Trailer Owners’ Jon Phillips said: “This is exceptionally good news — it’s brilliant to hear the government is acting on this.

“The rules on drivers’ hours are meant for professional drivers, not people who drive to the station or supermarket and then go out with their horses at the weekend.”

The DfT spokesman was unable to give an idea of when Europe would respond.

This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (16 June, 2011)