Local elections a chance for NZ horse riders to push for better access, says advocate

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New Zealand Equine Advocacy Network co-chair Shelly Warwick with Grace. Photo: Supplied
New Zealand Equine Advocacy Network co-chair Shelly Warwick with Grace. Photo: Supplied

An advocacy group that seeks formal recognition of the needs of New Zealand’s recreational horse riders in council and government decision-making wants equestrians to tackle the issue with candidates in upcoming local body elections.

The New Zealand Equestrian Advocacy Network (NZEAN) was formed just over a year ago during a gathering near Palmerston North.

It was borne from the frustration of the attendees in dealing with local councils and the New Zealand Transport Agency.

Network co-chair Shelly Warwick said the riders at the meeting lamented over what she described as the discrimination and lack of inclusion being shown to them in their local areas. They found it was not unique to them, but was in fact a nationwide problem.

“Recreational horse riders are not being recognized as a valid recreational group worthy of the degree of investment and inclusion as other recreational groups,” she says.

“Why? Because there is no legislative requirement for central and local government departments to engage or consider us at all. We have effectively disappeared off the New Zealand radar.

“For too long we have been in our silos, in our own districts, having to fight for any morsel of access we can get, and in most cases failing dismally due to outdated legislation that excludes us from safe, offroad shared pathways, even though we are classed as vulnerable road users.”

She says this lack of inclusion has filtered into local government, with no requirement to include riders in any infrastructure planning or design.

Instead, there is what she described as a culture of exclusion of horse riders from all infrastructure, and from anywhere that any other users are having issues, even if those issues are not to do with horses.

“We do have some amazing councils,” she says, “but they are the exception not the rule.”

Warwick said the nation is stuck in a time warp where legislation still sees horses as a big part of transport, ignoring the fact that the “carriageway”, or road, that was once dominated by horses is now full of trucks and cars. Many drivers are uneducated about how to share the road with a horse.

“We are excluded by legislation from using the verge, and this can be enforced by local councils, even though this is the safer place for us in most cases, and this legislation also excludes us from offroad shared pathways that are springing up all over the country – safe connections for all users except horses.

“Why can’t we share? There is no research that points to any reason we can’t. Provide us a strip of grass on the side of a pathway and we can also enjoy these connections.”

The network, presenting to a select committee, said there is adequate evidence that horses can share safely with other users. “But this evidence does not seem to be being sought. Instead decisions are being made on assumptions and bias,” she says.

Warwick says this October’s local body elections provide horse riders with an opportunity to start asking some questions and become more politically involved.

“We need to require some commitment from candidates, especially mayoral candidates.”

Riders, she suggests, need to do two things – ask questions of candidates and elect riders to local and regional council tables.

Candidates need to be quizzed on key issues for equestrians. “What are they going to do for horse riders? How will they improve access for us in their district or region? Will they treat us equally as a recreational group and prioritize consultation and inclusion in all infrastructure decisions for horse riders? How will they guarantee our access around their district for the future?

“We want some promises.”

Horse riders need to put their cowboy boots on and seek action, she says. “We need a national body that will advocate for our needs and require government commitment to us. If that is NZEAN, or if it morphs into something similar, that is fine. But we need it now.

“We are losing riding areas and getting locked out, excluded from plans for shared pathways all over New Zealand.

“Our exclusion is happening at an alarming rate now because it is the norm, and there is no legislation to counter this.

“If it continues, recreational riding in New Zealand will be a thing of the past, not something our children or grandchildren will be able to enjoy.”

The network, in its first year, organized and delivered a petition signed by more than 6000 people, and followed it with a submission to a government select committee that recommended legislation change to support horse riders on the road, and on offroad infrastructure.

It had two meetings with Transport Minister Michael Wood and met with the Walking Access Commission to see how they could help. “We have packed a lot into the last year,” Warwick says.

But the group needs the help and commitment of riders. “Two other petitions have already been presented to parliament prior to ours from horse riders and been all but ignored. It is time to change things.”

The network has launched a Give a Little page to raise enough money to employ lawyers to help in its endeavours.

Warwick pointed to the national elections next year, at which time the needs of riders need to be raised with all political parties.

“Collectively, we are not insignificant. Be brave, stand for local council. Let’s be collective and support those who do stand for local body elections.

“And let’s change the narrative of today, to a story where horse’s and recreational riding has a secure place for Kiwis today and into the future.”

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