It’s Not All Horseplay

With 3.5 million regular riders and nearly a million horses in the UK, it's important that we're all not only considerate road users, but also understand the challenges facing the equine community.
June 28, 2022

I’ve had a love of horses since I was a little girl, begging for riding lessons and a pony of my own. When I was twelve, I got my wish and started going to riding lessons once a week with my sister and our two friends. We were eventually lucky enough to be able to have our own ponies, Quiz and Ccino (like cappu’ccino’).

We had some of the best times of our lives around horses, my sister and I, riding up into the hills on our own, galloping on the beach and jumping gulleys’ for fun. The only moments I can say I really didn’t enjoy were the ones spent riding on the roads. We used to ride across the beach at the edge of Ulverston, down the canal, on to the ‘cinder path’ (which was the old railway line and my favourite part of the ride – you could have a nice, long canter down that track) and then round the lanes back to the field. I hated those lanes. Which brings me to something which I think is widely understood by horse owners and riders but possibly not so much the general public. Horses on the road. Whether it’s because their journey is slowed by a horse or the age-old rant about horse muck, everyone knows someone who doesn’t like the fact that horses are allowed on the roads. 

The thing is, almost all riders I have ever met don’t want to ride on the roads. We hate it. It’s dangerous, it’s hard on our horses’ legs, it can be slippery, and it can cause serious, and sometimes fatal, injuries to horses and their riders. Talking specifically about vehicles now, many drivers are brilliant and will pass wide and slow or stop, waiting for the horse to get to a safe place before they, quietly, set off again. Others, however, seem to forget that horses aren’t robots, they have a mind of their own and can be spooked by loud noises or sudden movements. So, a car revving their engine or getting too close to a horse could cause it to spook and injure itself and potentially damage the offending vehicle. Or a car flying at speed down a country lane, not imagining that there could be a horse just around the corner, is a serious danger; they could quite easily kill both horse and rider while risking severe damage to their self or their car. There are endless risks to riding on the roads, but I have a word count to stick to, so I won’t list them all.   

I can’t say I have a solution, but I think I can shine alight on the cause. I don’t know how many people in the UK now, would have even heard of a ‘bridleway’ but, years ago, they were everywhere, especially in rural areas. They were like footpaths, or cycle tracks, but for horses. Away from the roads, away from the traffic, the noise and the danger. The problem is that an astonishing number of them were closed off, made inaccessible or simply forgotten and overgrown. There are so few accessible bridleways now that riders have no choice but to ride on the roads to exercise their horses. Some, a good friend of mine as an example, are fortunate to be able to keep their horses at a facility that has a riding arena and lots of private land to ride on, so he rarely has to venture out on to the road with his horse. Most, however, (like my family) just don’t have those facilities so are forced to ride where we can, putting ourselves and our horses at risk every time we leave the field or stables.  

We understand that it’s an inconvenience to many road users but it’s an inconvenience to us too. I recently read, on the BHS (British Horse Society) website, that it’s estimated that only 22% of public rights of way are accessible to horse riders, with many too overgrown to be passable or with barriers erected, making them impossible for horses to enter. (The link to this can be found at the end of this article.)

Until February of this year, there was a deadline in place which stated that all bridleways that aren’t formally recorded, before 1st January 2026, would be lost to the public. Thankfully, the deadline was scrapped after a massive public campaign, but there is no guarantee that they won’t set a new deadline in the future*. There are many organisations across the UK who are working with the British Horse Society (BHS) to reclaim and reopen bridleways before they are lost forever. If you would like to get involved, a quick google search will tell you your local ‘bridleways association’ and what you can do to help the cause. There may be hope for us yet! So, next time you see a horse out on the road, please be patient, pass wide and slow when it’s safe, and try not to be too irked by their presence. They don’t want to be there either. 


*This deadline had also applied to public footpaths which aren’t formally recorded so they face the same potential threat in the future as bridleways. Please see the links below for more information, details of how to get involved and links to sources confirming that many bridleways are closing or being made inaccessible to riders.


Walkers urged to help save historic footpaths before 2026 deadline | Walking | The Guardian

Save Your Bridleways | Unrecorded Routes To Be Extinguished in 2026 (

Deadline to register England’s footpaths cancelled after public access campaign | UK news | The Guardian

Are there enough bridleways? Riders call for more safe off-road riding - Horse& Hound (

Blocked & Obstructed Bridleways | Advice from The British Horse Society (