Can You Ride a Horse on The Towpath?

Well it’s official, I’ve failed at blogication, that’s the whole point of new year’s resolutions I suppose, oh well there’s always next year! I say it all the time but honestly, we have been so busy, with just all the little things of life, but it really is about time I blogged.

This weekend we finally had the opportunity for a bit of a chill out, which was much needed. We retreated to James’ dads, where after a full-on day at work I did the most anti-social thing possible and disappeared upstairs for a bath of epic proportions. It’s one of the things I miss most about landlocked life, whilst we do have a small bath on the boat the amount of water and heating that would be required to make a bath possible just isn’t practical. Spending half an hour filling up your water tank to empty it directly into the bath is disheartening. So, I did as all boaters do and made the most of being landlocked and took back to water.

Whilst relaxing in the bath and re-acquainting with the latest in waterways news (Yes, I was reading towpath talk in the bath) I came across an unusual article, which left me torn. See this year the CRT have decided to take the issue of accessibility of the vast canal network for horse riders, in their words they are one of the few remaining tax payers (Whose money contributes to the maintenance of the waterways) who are unable to benefit from the stunning network they provide.

Now I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned it (it will be the first conversation I haven’t mentioned it in for three years) but I have three wonderful equines in my life.  Granted two of them are smaller than Great Danes and as such relish their role as glorified mowers and tolerate their second job of keeping Clyde, the 16hh BFG of the group, company. I’ve recently moved them to a field where they are a mere mile from the canal network. Whilst you would think I am all for this news, I’m honestly conflicted, and I am about to go rogue, and in doing so give pretty much every stakeholder in this debate the hump.


Why the conflict? Firstly, lets concentrate on the positives.

Positives for Horse Riders

+ Getting out and about on my horse is one of the greatest pleasures in my life, few things compare. Unfortunately, this is becoming harder and harder. In the previous place the horses were kept, a short section of riding out comprised a ¼ mile stretch of public highway. It was a B road, it led to the back end of nowhere, and once completed we had access to 8 miles off road bridleway, we were very lucky. Despite all the warnings being in place, despite all the high vis you can legally purchase, despite every possible precaution, a friend’s horse was still clipped by a car. We had to navigate poor drivers almost every time we were out. That’s a sad fact which doesn’t seem to be changing.

+ As I say we were very lucky in having such great access to bridleways, that weren’t overgrown or impassable, which hadn’t just been turned into footpaths (Quick fact horses are not allowed on footpaths without the land owner permission). It’s sadly not the case everywhere you go. The canal network is phenomenal, and access to the hundreds of miles of off-road riding is more than a little appealing. When you look the canal network is pretty much everywhere, you often don’t see it until you are looking, and even then just how far it covers can really surprise you.


Positives for the CRT

+ More users of the canal network are likely to equal more investment, whether that’s through tax payer’s money, donations or investment campaigns. It’s more users and it makes the place we are lucky enough to call home more likely to succeed and remain as we all love it.

Great for everyone? I’m afraid I don’t think it is, now comes the part where I upset a few people. So what really do I see the negatives to be?


Negatives for Horse Riders

– The CRT publishes very clear rules on the hierarchy to be followed on Towpaths throughout the UK, they go a little something like this:

1) Wildlife

2) Boaters

3) Walkers

99) Cyclists

100) Hire Boats

Problem is a lot of people (Particularly those who fall lower down the order) do not like their position, and as such try to rebel against the hierarchy, mainly by attempting to squash those above them (Often literally). Now horses can be a tad opinionated themselves, and I can’t quite imagine how adding them to the mix will pan out.

Joking aside, quite how do we manage the scenario of mooring ropes and pins versus cyclist, versus horse riders, versus family walking the dog, versus a tight section of towpath?

– Should I wear goggles? Horses are prey and as such are a flight animal, this when mixed with a narrow towpath and water, well it scares me a little bit. They can be so unpredictable as animals and anything can set off that primal flight reflex. Need an example? In the field the other day Clyde’s own trump scared him to the extent he bolted to the other end of his four-acre field. I’m glad to say I was just pottering around at the time and not on his back, or for that matter anywhere in his path. Now that must have been one hell of a trump, but really it can be anything, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Christ he was of the firm belief a bag of builder’s sand would eat him if he walked past it for three straight months. The added danger of the silty shallows of the canal and the sheer drop into them make me nervous, but perhaps that’s my risk averse disposition.

Negatives for the CRT

– I truly struggle to see how it is even possible to make towpaths rider friendly, yes of course the towpaths were formulated for use by horses in the first instance, but that was a little while ago. We all know that a lot of tow paths can be difficult to navigate as a walker with dog, never mind worrying where a half ton giant is putting their four feet. I know this won’t be true for all footpaths and imagine a lot will be fine, but how exactly do we publicize which are, and which are not what is in place to stop someone continuing on a path which they should not? Those trees with roots running exposed across the paths? Those areas where the towpath has been widened but old metal edging is starting to expose, the teeny tiny under bridge crossings, my gosh the locks. How does an organisation stand in declaring somewhere safe to ride, and then natural deterioration takes place to make them not so appropriate, do they then become liable?

– I love horses dearly, but my gosh they are destructive. They have four mini ploughs on the end of their legs, and they use them to great effect. Whilst I would hope that most riders would be sensible enough to not attempt to tackle the towpaths after rain, you can’t account for everyone. Seeing the way the towpaths suffered last year, well in many places they are still trying to recover, I dread to imagine the difference horses would of made.

It’s so difficult, I can see the positives and the negatives on both sides. I have an interest in both sides and that’s why, more than most things, I’d love to be whimsical and say it can work; I truly hope it can I’m just struggling to see quite how.

James and Kirsty A diary of live aboard life

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