- THE WAY AHEAD ?
Hacking in this country is enjoyed by millions of riders who use public bridle-paths and by-ways. The problem facing the majority of riders, however, is that in order to complete a safe circular ride they invariably have to use many dangerous roads to link each bridle-path. In many cases there are simply no bridle-paths at all within any easy ride of the stable, meaning riders must ride on busy roads or trespass on Private Farmland.
Concerned about the appalling number of accidents on the roads involving horses, farmer Robert Bunting and businessman Nigel Dyson founded the Essex-based EAST ANGLIAN FARM RIDES [EAFR] in January 1989... An innovative solution to alleviate the problems riders face and with the knowledge that experts forecast increased traffic levels on Britain's roads.
Long ago, public bridle-paths, and indeed roads, were simply a means of traversing from A to B. These paths were not used for pleasure purposes to the extent they are these days. County Councils, have the main responsible for the surfaces of bridle-paths, and are now beginning to allocate resources to maintain them. However, with all the pressures they are under to provide other social services, new bridle-paths are going to be low on the list of priorities.
There is, therefore, tremendous pressure now on farmers and landowners to respond to this demand for further access to the countryside. The problem is, who will pay for establishing new routes? Farmers must be compensated for giving up income producing land and for the obvious intrusion of privacy.
Many farmers have already responded to this demand by opening up horse routes on their land, but have found the initial costs of putting in gates and bridges - let alone cross country courses as an added attraction - are high. Then they have the problems of promoting the rides to local riders and managing the scheme. The fees they have to charge have been high. Riders don't seem to be flocking to join these independent schemes, firstly because of the cost and secondly, unless the route is very close to their stable, they will have to use horse transport. Finally, there is the feeling that routes on one farm quickly become boring.
The overall aims of EAFR are, therefore, to provide a regional network of safe off-road riding routes, where possible linking existing public bridle-paths, and in areas where there are no bridle-paths establishing safe riding routes.
Some people are unhappy about the EAFR scheme, because it takes the pressure off local authorities to improve public bridle-paths. EAFR feel, on the contrary, that the same authorities will, in fact, be under more pressure; because more riders will be able to reach previously unreachable bridle-paths (since most toll rides link with the public network), meaning that Councils will have to better maintain these Public Rights of Way.
EAFR have also been accused of being elitist, because of charging the rider for using the rides. But how many Leisure Centres (built at great public expense) can you get into without paying? It costs £5 for a swim, or a game of tennis, but EAFR offer a week's riding for only £2.
Finally, the public bridle-paths will suffer less damage overall, because instead of all the horses being restricted to what few bridle-paths there are, they will be spread over more miles of riding routes.
EAFR are now starting to allocate local agents and are always on the lookout for more. Agents are responsible for initiating the scheme in their area, so need a good knowledge of their area in hacking terms, and be willing to negotiate with farmers, open up and mark routes, and keep in touch with riders in their locality.
Full assistance and guidance is given to all new Agents. All expenses are reimbursed and a there's a free licence once the scheme is established in the Agent's locality.
ADULTS - £10.00 per month (Standing Order) or £110.00 yearly rate. YOUNG PERSONS (18 years and under) - £8.00 per month (Standing Order) or £90.00 yearly rate.
Each horse must be ridden by someone wearing an armband, but EAFR do offer special rates on request from families or groups.
The licence fees paid also entitle you to use any of the routes open elsewhere in the UK by members of the English Associates of Farm Rides, existing routes are open in Kent, Surrey, and Sussex and near Bristol.
There are no additional cap fees each time you ride. You receive an armband the colour of which will change annually.
At the end of each 'Licence Year' 31st March, the fees collected on behalf of farmers are divided up on a pro-rata basis and 70% is paid out according to the distance of each route on each farm. Last year farmers were paid £132 per mile (20% higher than the year before), and EAFR hope this will rise steadily in years to come, making to make it worth their while, and also easier to persuade new farmers to join the scheme.
EAFR retains 30% of fees to pay for the cost of Armbands, Signs, Waymarkers, Maps, Insurance, Postage, Photocopying, Telephone, Local Agents Expenses and other necessary items.
If you find that there are no routes near you yet, EAFR urge you to become a 'FRIEND OF EAFR'. For just £3 a year they will send you all their Newsletters and keep you informed about new routes, and other events such as the twice yearly Sponsored Rides.
Having worked on the scheme for almost 10 years, EAFR sincerely believe that this is the ONLY way to improve our hacking in this country, on a regional basis. Not only do EAFR need you to send in the names of farmers that their Local Agents could contact, but the success of the scheme depends on how riders use the scheme.
For further information about EAFR, or becoming an Agent, please contact: Mr. Nigel Dyson - Ph. [Day] +44 (0)1206 251790 / [Eve] (0)1206 250622, or visit their website at www.farmrides.com