Saddling up for a fight on the track

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Wakatipu horse riders are protesting at “unfair” treatment by a council quango they claim is putting lives at risk.

A lobby group is complaining to the Government, Department of Conservation and Queenstown Lakes District Council about the Wakatipu Trails Trust “forcing” them off local walking tracks onto dangerous public roads.

Lobby group leader Vicki Bonham-Hoskin claims WTT won’t permit horses and riders on the many district walking tracks – despite being obliged to under the “Wakatipu Trails Strategy”.

WTT develops “narrow” tracks and trails suitable only for walkers and cyclists, she says – equestrians are pushed onto public roads.

“The trails in question are in areas we have ridden for generations – many of them forged by our ancestors and their horses,” Bonham-Hoskin says.

“We don’t expect to share a fancy track with cyclists and walkers … we just need a safe area to ride on.”

The issue’s been building up for some time and more than 200 riders are affected, Bonham-Hoskin says.

“The new trails being developed are in a very boutique fashion … the upmarket nature of them means they don’t want horses on them.

“Being forced off these trails means riders are forced to ride on increasingly busy, fast, dangerous roads. Any rider in the Wakatipu could tell you of personal dangerous riding incidences from fast, inconsiderate drivers.”

Local GP Val Miller says a WTT-signposted track on Slopehill Road doesn’t even exist. Instead of a proper trail, a “dirt road” caters to riders, walkers, cyclists – and motorists.

“Somebody’s got to put the work in there and actually create the trail, otherwise somebody’s going to get killed.”

Bonham-Hoskin’s group asked to meet WTT boss Kaye Parker but claims she “pulled out” so riders have written a letter and sent it to Government officials.

Bonham-Hoskin warns further action may be taken if their concerns aren’t heard.

Parker says she’s still “getting up to speed” on the issue but “I think it’s great that these concerns have been raised and I think the next step is to have a meeting with DoC, QLDC and WWT to listen and learn and we can all go from there”.