Riders to oppose horse bypass plan

Horses are being 'spooked' by mountain bike activities, it is claimed
Horses are being 'spooked' by mountain bike activities, it is claimed

HORSE riders are calling for safety measures to protect them from mountain bike activities on the South Downs.

The British Horse Society, South Downs Local Access Forum (SDLAF) and West Sussex County Council have been in talks with Steyning Downland Scheme (SDS) and the Wiston Estate to find a solution.

But some riders fear the horse bypass suggested will offer no benefit to either horses or walkers.

Kate Sigournay, a horse rider and community first responder, has been battling for more than four years to protect horses from the Steyning Mountain Bike Trail System.

“The public rights of way, bridleways 2714 and 2716, that give access to the South Downs Way from Steyning through the SDS, have been described as a ‘danger to horse riders’ and the risks in using them as ‘probably adequate’ for pedestrians, by the SDLAF,” she said.

“These safety risks are due to mountain bike trails in the woods, the existence of which have been permitted by the SDS.”

She wants the mountain biking activities moved away from these public rights of way but instead, the SDS is proposing an optional horse bypass route.

Kate said: “I have personally been taken off by my pony twice, two years ago, after it was startled by mountain bikers, and can no longer ride these bridleways in safety.

“The bypass route will not necessarily benefit horse riders either, as there will be no legislative requirement for any biker on this route to give way to horses.

“Given the current situation, where the mountain bikers ride wherever they wish, this is a very real consideration.”

She has so far collected 80 signatures on a petition calling for the mountain bike trails to be moved.

The petition will be presented to the SDS on Saturday, ahead of a consultation meeting on the horse bypass route. Horse riders, walkers and dog walkers are invited to meet on the grass area behind Mouse Cottage, in Mouse Lane, Steyning, at 2.30pm to find out more.

Kate said: “As the mountain bikers ride with impunity, on footpaths and through conservation areas, many of the local walkers and dog walkers similarly feel that they, too, cannot enjoy these rights of way in safety. Feelings are beginning to run high.”

The bike trails are located between the two bridleways, which run from Mouse Lane. A report to Horsham and District Riding Club in September said there had been some incidents where horses using the bridleways have been spooked or startled by cyclists.

Discussions have been ongoing since May, when local riders met with other representatives on site to discuss ways for the two groups ‘to co-exist happily’.

SDS agreed to a number of suggestions, such as reducing the number of points where trails cross the bridleways and slowing or stopping bikes at these locations, using trail design and signage.

A code of conduct for trail users was also agreed and a committee formed to oversee responsible use.

The alternative horse route has also been offered to enable riders to avoid a section of bridleway close to a mountain bike trail.