The countryside code is a set of rules and guidelines for all users of the countryside, and is intended to protect livestock, property and wildlife in perpetuity for everyone to enjoy. Most riders love hacking in the country, and enjoy exploring the great outdoors with their horse or pony whenever possible. Whether you're an experienced rider or only get the chance to ride occasionally, it's important to respect the countryside and have a good understanding of it, and know how the countryside code specifically applies to you when you are out with your horse. Read on to find out more about the countryside code and how it applies to riders.
It's important to get some local information before you set out if you're not familiar with a particular area, to apprise you of any hazards and help with planning your route. However you must also be prepared to adapt, and follow any local signs and diversions. A good awareness of your surroundings and knowledge of whether land is public, private, restricted or has a right of way is important. Access to some areas of land may be permitted at certain times of year, but restricted according to the constrains of the usage of that particular area- for instance, fields with growing crops, and fields containing livestock.Make a note of the weather forecast before you set out, and have provision available for yourself and your horse if the weather changes. Bear in mind that in rural areas you may have a problem getting a signal on your mobile phone to call for help in the case of an accident or emergency, so make sure that someone knows where you are going, your approximate route, and when to expect you back.
If you have reason to open a closed gate, always close it after you. While many gates in the countryside can be operated efficiently by an experienced rider without the need to dismount, be prepared to dismount if you need to in order to ensure that any gate you use is closed and secured in the way that you found it.If you pass through an open gate, do not assume it has been left open in error by a previous user (unless you see this happening). Farmers and livestock owners may leave gates open deliberately to allow their animals free access to water or extend their grazing area, which is why the guideline is to leave gates as you find them, rather than to always shut any gate which you come upon.Do not use other people's hedges, walls or fences as jumps, unless you have the express permission of their owner to do so and have checked for hazards and safe approach and recovery on both sides.If you must pass through a field of crops and it is permitted to do so, stick to the paths in place to avoid damaging the yield. It's vital to have good control of your horse at all times in fields with crops, as a bolting or uncontrolled horse can easily cause extensive damage.Do not interfere with any structures such as barns or shelters, or any livestock or animals you come across. If you find an injured animal or damaged structure while riding, take what steps you can to alert their owner.
Just as with livestock and owned animals, do not interfere with any wildlife you come across on your ride, even if you think they are in distress. Human intervention into the natural lifecycle of wild animals often causes more harm than it prevents. Don't pick or damage any plants or flowers you come across, and stick to paths and bridleways and avoid riding over any unspoilt terrain or areas of new plant growth. Always take your litter home with you, including uneaten food. If you smoke, never drop cigarette ends anywhere in the countryside- fire can be devastating to crops, wildlife and property alike, and easily started in the warmer months. Take care around livestock when crossing fields- animals like cows and other horses can be very inquisitive and potentially dangerous to the horse and rider, especially in the case of mothers protecting their young. Always assess a field before entering it, give other animals a wide berth, and keep an eye on the best ways to get out of the field in a hurry if you need to.
This section of the countryside code may not apply to riders specifically, but many riders do take their dogs out with them when hacking. You should only consider doing this if you know the area well and are confident in your ability to control both dog and horse simultaneously, and are willing and able to dismount if necessary to pick up after your dog. Even though the countryside code specifically indicates control of dogs rather than horses, it is only common sense to understand that your horse must also be kept under control at all times, and not cause damage or destruction to wildlife, property or plants.Make sure that your horse is wormed regularly- while you are obviously not expected to pick up after your horse, a high worm count in the stool can be instrumental in introducing worms to pasture land, something you should take steps to avoid both on your own property and on others.Also, make sure your horse does not urinate into or right next to a watercourse or stream that other animals may use to drink from.
Consideration for others is instrumental in getting on in all walks of life, and riding in the countryside is no exception! Hold gates open for other riders if you see them coming, give priority to pedestrians on any shared paths, and do not gallop past walkers or animals or do anything which may cause alarm or inconvenience to other people who are enjoying the countryside too.Keep out of the way of farmers who are actively working with dogs or managing their animals, and do not cause an obstruction by stopping to rest in places which might affect the thoroughfare of a path or walkway. The British countryside is an amazing natural resource- use it safely and with consideration, to ensure that it can be enjoyed by people and animals of all kinds for many years to come.