The rights of horse riders to use roads throughout New Zealand are under threat. Campaigner Jan Mossman argues that horses are a legal mode of transport on our roads, and those rights should be protected for horse enthusiasts and future generations.
A petition supported by 15,000 signatures nationwide has just been tabled at Parliament, requesting the NZ Transport Agency to include ridden and driven horses in its planning and facilitation processes. That petition, which I led, wants horse riders to be included in all discussions regarding walking, cycling and combined access recreational trails.
Historic coach and bridle trails, which forged NZ roads, have been stolen from horse riders. These trails have had millions of dollars from our taxes and rates invested in them, but while they're accessible to cyclists and walkers, horses are banned.
Horse riders acknowledge that busy roads are too dangerous for horses. New Zealand needs better planning by central and local government for safer riding. Developing berms on quieter country roads as recreational trails would be invaluable for riders and walkers. Unformed legal roads - paper roads - which traverse farmland, forestry, DOC land, river esplanades, lake edges and beaches have untapped potential for safer riding.
As land law expert Brian Hayes explains: "The key issue that surrounds all roads, whether they be the normal public roads that we travel on or these unformed roads, is that the rights are exactly the same.
"Everyone has the historic right of free passage."
As well as the 15,000 written signatures presented to Parliament, our newly launched electronic petition already drawn 1700 supporters, and on Facebook we're getting some hair-raising examples of dangerous drivers putting horses and riders at risk. For example:
Fiona of Nelson: "I live on a busy 100k zone in the country on the Moutere Highway. When I ride out from home I have to cross a bridge. I have drivers speeding past me and trying to overtake me and my horse on the bridge. I have been abused by drivers for making them stop and wait 2 minutes while I cross the bridge. I ask people nicely to slowly down and get abused or they don't listen.
Cathie of Hamilton: "I ride on the roads even though there are scary moments every time I go out on the road. I have nowhere else to ride as I don't own lots of land."
Thousands of New Zealanders embrace the horse, and so do many of our overseas visitors. Horses have served humanity for 6000 years. They have helped turn lives around for the troubled youths, the disabled and older people battling hip and knee problems.
The horse is a significant part of our culture and heritage. Let's unite to make sure it stays that way.
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