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’.
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.
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.