Rights of Way – Footpaths.
"I am sometimes asked who should give way if a walker meets horse riders on a footpath or bridleway. This is a matter of common sense and courtesy on both sides."
Says Maureen Comber
Perhaps surprisingly Rights of Way (ROW) are every bit as much a highway as a motorway.
It is therefore the Highway Authority of the Local County Council who has the responsibility for maintenance and keeping the ways free of obstruction for our use and enjoyment. This is a Statutory requirement under (sec 130 HA 1980). A Statutory Duty is no different for a Council than it is for the public where statutory duties ensure for example, we will pay our taxes!
Our Local Highway Authority is Hampshire County Council. For the sake of confusion, I sometimes think theirs as well as ours; they have shunted the public face of responsibility to their Countryside Service Department. But make no mistake the buck stops with the Local Highways Authority.
In 1949 The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act provided the law that all public footpaths (FP’s), bridleways (BW's) and Roads Used as Public Paths (RUPP's) should be surveyed and added to a Definitive Map. It does not mean to say however that all the FP’s recorded on the first Definitive Map in 1949 or subsequently, do not have higher rights for horse riders.
Footpaths, as the name suggests, are open to walkers but it is worth noting that walkers may walk on all ROW. However it is not uncommon to sometimes see horses on FP's also. This is because riding a horse on a footpath is considered a trespass against the landowner. Many landowners however give their permission for horses to use them, especially where they are superimposed on hard surface tracks or well drained land. Of course such permission does not always extend to use by cyclists and it would be wrong to assume that just because horses use some footpaths, that cyclists are naturally included. It all rests with the owner of the land. In addition there may be some private rights of access attached as well.
A landowner may also if he wishes, dedicate higher rights on existing FP's so that they become bridleways, and this is the quickest and simplest way to improve the definitive bridleway network.
I am sometimes asked who should give way if a walker meets horse riders on a footpath or bridleway. This is a matter of common sense and courtesy on both sides. However it should be remembered that a walker is probably more nimble on two feet than half a ton of horse on four, especially if the horse is aware of something which is causing it to be apprehensive. It is undoubtedly wise to bear in mind that horses are programmed by nature to flee from danger; this can make them somewhat unpredictable so patience is sometimes required.