This week all of our attention has been turned to Royal Ascot, and with the glorious weather to boot, it is a very pleasant and inspiring time to get out for a hack.
However, news last week from the Lake District showed that the National Park Authority had angered the equestrian community by attempting to publish an ill-thought-out guide.
The draft of the code of conduct put forward for consultation contained many suggestions that were controversial at best, among them a 'speed limit' restricting riders to no more than a trot on the bridleways. This has since led to reports of local land-owners chastising riders for cantering, and even threatening to revoke access.
A quick look around while out, and a search of the forums will tell you why the Park Authority though this might have been necessary. There are a whole host of gripes, ranging from common courtesy to safety issues. Reports of some riders galloping right past 'green' horses, cyclists overtaking at speed, walkers meandering down the centre of the path and not giving way; the list goes on.
With more and more people enjoying the great British Countryside, our bridle trails become more crowded. In particular, the recent cycling boom has led to the routes used by horses for years being frequented also by those enjoying a bike ride in the country, or even training cyclists avoiding the traffic. Walkers and runners too, are now using our often picturesque routes. These are vulnerable road users, and they do require some care and attention. But some riders are under the impression that they shouldn't have to share, which can lead to animosity (and dare we say it, bad behavior) when the two trail users meet.
As for these new trail users, many may not understand the danger that some situations put them in, or know to listen for the sound of an oncoming horse. Joggers in particular may have earphones in.
But the question is:
Are we really in need of a document outlining what should be common sense?
Our two cents is that everybody is out to enjoy themselves and the British Countryside, which can only be a good thing. And personally, we try to be courteous to others on bridleways, treating them how we would wish to be treated ourselves. This can mean slowing down to a walk to pass, or reigning in to the side to allow a cyclist around.
But how to deal with others? We often find that simply asking for what you want is the best way to go. A quick shout to a walker or jogger: "Behind you!" or "On your left!" is usually quickly understood. Other riders and cyclists much the same. The bone of contention is often passing at unsuitable speed, so a shout of "Slow, please!" works more often than not. If you feel it necessary you can always elaborate or explain as they get closer. And try to remember a "Thank You" goes a long way, and it may encourage good behavior in future!
We hope that rules and regulations are not necessary for our bridleways, but we will be watching eagerly for any news on the subject. In the meantime, we will endeavour to remain gracious and calm when out riding during this beautiful season, and enjoy it. And remember, for us it's a way of life, but most of these extra users will be gone come winter!