I recently witnessed an online debate on whether horse-riders should be allowed on roads. Now, what with all of Trump’s recent trumpeting and the heat around Australia’s current same-sex marriage debate, you’d hardly think the topic of nags on the road could generate such passionate discourse.
But it was the following comment that I found the saddest of all, not least because I have to agree.
“That road is not a place for horses to be led or ridden. Its a bad road and not worth the risk. ”
Now the in discussion happens to be one of our local thoroughfares, and given the choice, I would also avoid it when out riding.
But the saddest thing?
That road wasn’t always bad. In fact, the local riding school happened to be situated on it, smack bang on the first bend out of town.
On any given day, you could see a string of ponies and smiling young riders wending their way up Mt. Shadforth.
There was a sign or two notifying drivers of horse-riders, and people always slowed down. Chances are it would be for your own niece or son’s classmate, ‘cause everyone knew someone who rode horses then.
In case you’re wondering, all this was only 25 years ago. My, how things can change.
With the ever-increasing insurance headaches, that riding school closed down. The horses were moved off, and the land carved up and sold as residential blocks.
Today, the road verge has been deleted by wire rope barriers. Cars fly around the corners at godforsaken speeds. Today, the last thing you would expect to see on that road is a horse and rider.
So our roads are getting busier and more dangerous to horse riders, which brings me to the next statement in the lengthy debate:
“There’s no need to ride on the roads- that’s what horse floats were designed for”.
I must admit that of all comments on that post, the is the one that really makes my blood boil.
As horses become increasingly obsolete in every day life, horse-riding is seen as more and more of an elitist sport. The ‘bullying’ of horses off the roads and into floats only serves to further cement the divide between the haves and have-nots.
Horse floats do not come cheap, and of course require a suitable gas-guzzling towing vehicle, not to mention ongoing insurance and registration costs.
Ideally, being involved with horses should be more about leadership skills, a sense of responsibility, the ability to problem solve, and less about having oodles of money.
There are still those of us out there who are discontent with riding our mounts in endless circles around a paddock, or a jaunt around the 20 minute ‘bridle trail’ loop. Rather than floating our horses to the beach of a morning, some of us may prefer to pull out a map and take up the challenge of riding there.
Back as 14 year olds, riding to the Alpaca Farm for a chocolate bar was a grand adventure. As a teenage girl whose family couldn’t afford a float, horses and roads meant freedom.
Exploring the bush, taking risks, camping out, and falling in love with the landscape from the back of our horse. Getting there on our own steam by using our horses as vehicles and traveling companions- its only what we’ve been doing for hundreds of years.
But perhaps those days have gone.
“But where and when did things change for? ”, I wondered, as I went to have a look firsthand at the ‘bad road’.
What really made that road so suddenly unsafe for horses?
Was it the increasing urbanisation on that side of town?
Was it the increased speed limit?
The installation of the wire-rope barriers?
It was the fact that horse riders stopped using the road.
As soon as the horses disappeared, drivers took them less and less into consideration. Cars started going faster, the verges got narrower and the barriers went up. The road became all about the cars.
Why subject yourself to the dangers of the road?
I am reminded of a family who chose to cycle-tour some of the gnarliest roads in Australia. When confronted with the question of why they would choose to subject their children to the dangers of the roads, they explained that they were biking the change they wanted to see in the world.
Likewise, the roads will never become safer for us if we are simply bullied into floats or too scared to stray from our arenas.
The more present and visible that horses become on the road, the more that drivers will begin to anticipate horses. Over time, government and local councils will be forced to consider and make allowances for horse riders as a result of public demand.
One case in point is the stretch along the Bicentennial National Trail which follows the Alpine Way. In the past, riders and pack animals were forced to follow the shoulder of the busy winding road, no doubt on a wing and a prayer and with hearts in mouths.
But it didn’t deter riders from their BNT travels.They plugged away, and after a while, the community noticed what danger the busy Alpine Way posed to horse trekkers. One way or another, a bridle trail was built to run parallel to the road, and there are more riders out there now than ever.
Would that bridle trail would be there today if horses and riders had stopped using the road, cowering back to their floats and backtracks? Probably not.
If we disappear from the roads, it is as good as giving them up.
This doesn’t mean I’ll be throwing caution to the wind and putting my horse and self in danger for the sake of politics. After all, we all know who suffers most when car meets horse.
But I refuse to be bullied off the road.
So let’s be seen.
Ride to the alpaca farm and buy a god-damn chocolate bar.
It’s time to reclaim our roads!