North Cheshire Riders

Improve your own local riding.

 

 

How to start- this is what we did

As we’ve said elsewhere, we started as a very small group of riders from one livery yard. The stimulus for the start of North Cheshire Riders from this was the Cheshire ‘Rights of Way Improvement Plan’. Riders in Cheshire had been asked for their views and ideas. Many riders felt this was just a paper exercise, but we thought it was still the best chance we had to influence what happened.

Although we were originally asked to just fill in a table of Rights of Way that needed work, we decided to think outside the box from the start by looking at what we, as riders, needed. Our aim was, and still is, ‘to promote safer riding from the stable door’ within hacking distance of our yard and to share our experience and best practice with riders in Cheshire and countrywide. We think of North Cheshire Riders as an access group, not just a bridleways group. We are affiliated to the BHS as a bridleways group as this means we have all important third party insurance for our activities.

The first step was deciding on the area we wanted to improve. We bought a map from the Ordnance Survey Explorer series, because the scale meant every field boundary was shown. We then drew a five mile radius around our yard on the map, which included all our local rides.

The next task was to get to know the area inside out, the number of horses kept and where, whether they are kept in livery yards, private yards or one-horse homes. We kept the data but put a summary of numbers for each kilometre square on the map. This showed high concentrations of horses kept in some areas, far higher than any official estimate.

We then marked areas of good hacking and any riding black spots. Interestingly the large livery yards are often located on traffic black spots rather than focused on good hacking areas. Riders’ need to commute from work to their horse determines their priority in choosing a livery yard.

We then wrote a submission to the Rights of way Improvement Plan based on this information with recommendations for improvements and the priority they should take.

Your local Rights of Way office also has to have produced a Rights of Way Improvement Plan. They may be updating it in 2010; East Cheshire is.

 Where to go next

 At this point you may want to look at ‘Lost Ways’. These are routes that were ridden in the past but now only recorded as footpaths if they are recorded at all. If you have a member who loves looking at old documents then get them on the job! However this is unlikely to improve your riding for some years as the process is very slow. If there is a route ridden for years and you can gather user evidence this can be a quicker process. Either way the BHS runs regular training courses to show you how.

 Your plan will allow you to target problems in order of their importance rather than piecemeal. Look for ‘quick wins’; a difficult gate that stops riders using a good bridleway or getting a fallen tree moved by the Rights of Way department. ‘Quick wins’ will keep things active and members’ morale high.

 After that

 You must keep going; there is no substitute for sustained effort. Your plan won’t all happen overnight despite any ‘quick wins’ you can get. Give yourself realistic deadlines for your plans.

 Have a group to keep you motivated and above all keep focused; don’t be diverted to another area’s problems. Make the time; you can keep the ball rolling with a ‘little and often’ outlook. Reliable helpers will then be there as and when needed, rather than, as many volunteers end up, feeling that you want their soul as well as every spare minute they have.

 When you have something to show, organise a fun ride. You’d be surprised how many  riders don’t use local routes. Keep the ride simple and fairly short as many riders will walk the whole way. Man road crossings and gates, or ask landowners if they can be left open during the ride. Your local endurance group can advise on marking, safety and perhaps lend signs.

 The key to success

 We think the secret of success is to TALK TO PEOPLE

Walk your area, talk to as many horse owners as you can; they will give you invaluable information, help and support. You only risk an overdose of chat and cups of tea!

Talk to Rights of Way staff; get to know them and who does what. They are on your side but remember that they have other pressures and financial constraints. Be polite and friendly and above all know you are reporting problems accurately. As an example, we’d been told that new tarmac laid on a bridleway had caused a horse to fall and wanted to report the problem. When asked, the horse’s owner blamed the rider as the horse had actually slipped down a grass bank off the track because she’d been using her mobile phone at the time. However a slippery road that we’d already reported in our Rights of Way Improvement Plan was actually resurfaced after a horse did come down on it and needed veterinary attention.

Get to know Highways staff too. Riders have to use roads to get to bridleways and a few improvements can make a huge difference, such as a mown strip on a verge.

Keep talking to horse owners and get their comments on your plans. Keep people informed as you make progress or struggle with a thorny problem.

Get business cards. Hand them out to riders when you meet them as well as Council staff

Keep everyone informed

SAY THANK YOU to people when they have helped-even when you think it is just their job, particularly local authority staff. They are rarely thanked. This will not only give them a morale boost to know that they are appreciated but they will be much more willing to help in future than if you criticize them all the time.

 And if you still have problems with your riding?

Ok-you’ve got your quick wins on roads and bridleways, local riders are all behind you but your local riding is still fragmented with unrideable stretches preventing access to good riding areas.

This is where your local knowledge comes in. In recent years farmers often allowed riders to use their land on a permissive basis. With insurance worries and the complex rules with set aside and other schemes this rarely happens today. However there is a nationwide scheme that provides off road riding for an annual payment by the members to the landowners involved. This is known as TROT. www.tollrides.org.uk/

 Your plan will be useful to investigate possibilities. You will need to know the numbers of horses and riders in the area, whether they are happy with the riding they have now or if they are prepared to pay a modest fee for safer riding. Local riders will also tell you who owns the land in their area and if they are ‘horse friendly’. You will need to talk to them armed with the facts and figures TROT can give you. Farmers won’t have to worry about insurance or business rates but will get about £200 per mile of route nine feet wide.

Your earlier research will have told you where you need links between riders and safe riding. Plan to use the driest land you can so it can be used all year. Try to avoid gates, which are hard for many riders and bridges which are very expensive. It will take time as farmers will be cautious, but we had a small Toll Ride within a year and almost four miles in eighteen months. Other farmers have said they might join in when the scheme has run for a year. This area has no bridleways at all and busy rat runs so riders are so grateful; one told me that it was the best thing that had happened to her all year.

 Good Luck!