Kiwi equestrian traditions at risk as horse riders fight for their future

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Horse riders increasingly have to fight to keep access to where they have always ridden and to be included in any new infrastructure.
Horse riders increasingly have to fight to keep access to where they have always ridden and to be included in any new infrastructure. Image by InspiredImages

Members of an equestrian action group plan to ride their horses to parliament to draw attention to the “insidious loss” of access to places to ride in New Zealand. Shelly Warwick, co-chair of the New Zealand Equestrian Advocacy network, explains why horse riders must act now or risk losing even more recreation ground. 

The humble horse, who was once relied upon for our transport, construction, farming, industry and leisure, seems now to be forgotten for its contribution, both historically and in recent times, by the New Zealand Government and decision-makers nationally and locally.

The Government, continually looking for ways to be greener, cleaner, and searching for shiny new projects to hang from CV’s, has overlooked the equestrian industry and recreational community for decades. Recently with the push for eco-friendly initiatives, the government has been busy funding projects for walking and cycling without a thought for the equestrian recreational sector.

There is a community of about 80,000 sport and leisure horses nationwide, and equestrians have slipped under the radar with regard to legislation, planning and funding. The trails and pathways once forged by horses are becoming “horse unfriendly” as the government funds new “shared pathways” for walkers and cyclists instead of “multiuse pathways” for walking, cycling and horse riding.

Some may say there are places horses can’t go. Tell that to our ancestors who required horses to go everywhere, and they did. They were the bulldozers, the logging trucks, the roadway machines, the ambulances, the farm machines, the transport network and the war machines. This history is now undervalued, as is the cultural and economic value of the equestrian industry of today.

Currently, in New Zealand, there are around 40,000 racing horses and about 80,000 sport and leisure horses (Waikato university study 2012) that contribute billions of dollars to the national economy, 5% of our GDP and millions to local economies. The horse world supports many local businesses such as vets, farriers, stockfeed outlets, farmworkers, saddlers,  contractors, mechanics, trainers – the list goes on. We are legal road users and yet a recent “Road to Zero” strategy by the New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) does not have any provision or strategy in its 30-year plan for equestrians. We are someone’s mother, daughter, son, father, grandparent and friend. Is this just a bit neglectful that we as a user group are not worth protecting? Is this not a failure in NZTA’s duty of care?

Above all else, we are a valid recreational group. Because of a lack of recognition by many consecutive governments, and therefore a complete lack of inclusion in planning or funding, we are being shafted out of public spaces that we have traditionally enjoyed. Unless local councils have an independent strategy for equestrian inclusion, we are left out.

One example of this is the neighbouring Kapiti and Horowhenua District Councils in the lower North Island. In 2002, Kapiti Coast District Council adopted a Cycleway Walkway Bridleway strategy that aimed to provide multiuse access and pathways wherever possible. Horse riders successfully co-exist with walkers and cyclists on many river and parkland trails in the Kapiti District.  But in the neighbouring district of Horowhenua, there is no mention of horses in their shared path strategy. Horowhenua is a more rural district than Kapiti and yet the council refuses to engage with local equestrian advocacy groups. In Kapiti, a district of only just over 50,000 people, the equestrian community contributes, conservatively, $13 million dollars per annum. This would be significantly more in the Horowhenua. Regardless, of the dollars, this is about equality and inclusion. All councils should be focused on safe recreational options and connections for all users, as should government agencies such as NZTA – otherwise they guilty of a failure in their ‘duty of care’.

New Zealanders risk losing access unless the validity of equestrian recreation is recognised.
New Zealanders risk losing access unless the validity of equestrian recreation is recognised. Image by Anne Cowell

We are at a crossroads. We increasingly have to fight to keep access to where we have always ridden and to be included in any new infrastructure such as the Otaki to North Levin (O2NL) Expressway through the Horowhenua, or the Manawatu Gorge replacement in Manawatu. We have to fight for everything we get and equestrians are sick of it. If we don’t stop this insidious loss of our rights to equal access and funding we will lose it all. Our traditional riding spaces are more and more rapidly being taken from us and we need to act now or our children and grandchildren will not have any freedom to ride around our country.

Several like-minded advocates for equestrian access recently formed the New Zealand Equestrian Advocacy Network (NZEAN), in frustration with a lack of rights. Dealing with some local authorities, NZTA and government departments is like bashing your head against a brick wall because there is no requirement for them to engage, plan for or accommodate us, and so most often they just don’t.

There have been attempts in the past with petitions to parliament that have been completely ignored. We have tried to get meetings with Ministers and NZTA, but we go ignored as well. Who is accountable here? And so, over just a couple of months, we have started to “muster the troops”.

We have launched a petition to Parliament on and we intend to ride our horses to parliament on September 8 to state our intent and rally more support from all New Zealand horse riders and the businesses that we support.

Shelly Warwick and her horse, Grace.
Shelly Warwick and her horse, Grace. “If we don’t stop this insidious loss of our rights to equal access and funding we will lose it all,” says Shelly, co-chair of the New Zealand Equestrian Advocacy network.

We are in a ride for our rights and recognition. A ride for equality and a ride for the future of our chosen leisure activity. We don’t want New Zealand to become a country where young people who choose to ride can do so only on private land. This is not the Kiwi way. We need to act now and come out of the shadows and be recognized for what we contribute to this country, and we need others who benefit from us to support us too – the racing industry, vets, farriers, animal feed outlets, fencers, saddleries, trainers – everyone associated with this industry.

But mostly we need to back ourselves and stand up for our place now and into the future.

 

Shelly Warwick

Shelly Warwick is co-chair of the New Zealand Equestrian Advocacy network (NZEAN).

12 thoughts on “Kiwi equestrian traditions at risk as horse riders fight for their future

  • July 7, 2021 at 10:33 am
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    Fabulous article. Happy to help rally the troops in Nth Canterbury.

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  • July 7, 2021 at 10:34 am
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    I agree absolutly with everything. As coming from u.k many years ago the difference is tremendous. There are so many bridle ways and new tracks for horse riders over there and there has been no conflict of interest with walkers. Our roads are a death trap for horses as well as car drivers

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    • July 13, 2021 at 3:55 pm
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      I couldn’t agree more re the fabulous bridleways in the UK. It makes no sense that a country that advertises big green open spaces has so little set up for equestrians to help keep them safe & away from the roads .NZTA need to get out of their warm comfortable offices & see reality, NOT only on this issue! They are pretty appalling in their random ideas

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  • July 7, 2021 at 12:38 pm
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    Riders and other equestrian sportspeople have MAJOR public relations work to do with the wider community. I was horrified, when I arrived in New Zealand after living in (working back) Oman, the UAE, Britain, Fiji and Australia, to notice not merely a disregard but an active hostility towards equestrian sport that I had not met with elsewhere except, perhaps, Fiji. I’m not Kiwi. I’ve only been here a decade. So I really don’t understand what’s going on.
    To put this in perspective, imagine golfers were treated like this. No city golf courses! The only golf courses in the country would be on private land, out the back of beyond, and they’d cost a bomb to use because there would be no subsidies and the landholder would have to make sure the golfers paid at least as much as, say, an onion crop. Less-than-wealthy golfers would be told to use their own back yards or go play on the beach.
    What did we riders ever do to earn this? To whom do we talk to address this? And what is New Zealand’s equestrian sport body, the ESNZ, doing to help us?

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  • July 7, 2021 at 4:51 pm
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    Yes Taupo Adult riding club is pushing go button for more road rides through town ..Taupo ..1st one held yesterday…..we need to RISE UP or we will disappear from view..

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  • July 7, 2021 at 5:25 pm
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    Horse Riders have to fight for everything we get and as equestrians we are really sick of it. If we don’t stop this insidious loss of our rights to equal access and funding we will lose it all. Our traditional riding spaces are more and more rapidly being taken from us and we need to act now or our children, nieces, nephews will not have any freedom to ride around our beautiful country.

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  • July 7, 2021 at 8:06 pm
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    I hope all is going to plan …i will see if i can hop on here…

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  • July 8, 2021 at 5:38 pm
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    I agree with all these sentiments, i think we do need to be heard and combining with walkways shouldn’t be a problem. I think equestrian sports NZ should be doing more, after all many of us pay a significant fee just to be able to compete as amateurs in our chosen discipline and most competition horse are hacked out regularly as part of their training programme. We all need a safe place to hack, not too far from home.

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  • July 9, 2021 at 9:34 am
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    The biggest issue seems to be horse poo. I walk up a forestry track for fitness and always am kicking poo off the track – in the hope that it doesn’t become an issue so I can ride my horse there too. Other walkers have commented to me that “they have to pick up their dog poo, why can’t horse people at least kick theirs off the track”. What are we as riders prepared to do about that on non-farmland tracks? We are definitely at risk of losing more access, and need to do something!

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  • July 9, 2021 at 2:34 pm
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    Defend your rights to ride horseback in your beautiful country and remember that the horses contribute in many ways to the ecosystem, to the society, and to the general quality of life. They deserve our respect and a life of quality themselves.

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  • July 11, 2021 at 8:29 pm
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    I have been trekking successfully as a business for the past 43 yrs and have had to work really hard to maintain access for my rides. With the growth of lifestyle blocks many owned by expats ..large tracts of land have been cut up into small blocks and trails have been locked out…even paper roads are fenced off!!
    I rode in France where they have a huge network of trails shared by cyclists, walkers and horse riders…they are fabulous and traverse the entire country…we could so easily achieve this here.
    I would be happy to help in any way.

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