The association was started in 1977 by Stephanie Wheeler who was the British Horse Society’s Access and Bridleways Officer for Somerset. Stephanie realised that the problems and area were too large to be covered single-handed, and so set up separate groups in each local district. The area covered by the South Somerset Bridleways Association is the same as the South Somerset District Council, which is about 120 parishes. Our members are local riders concerned about the state of the bridleways and our aims are much the same as they were then. We now also undertake the added work caused by the ‘cut off date’ introduced by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. See the section of Definitive Map Modification Order applications for more information on the ‘cut-off date’. We are consulted on major infrastructure projects such as the Highways England projects to dual sections of the A303 and A358 in our area.
From our start we have been affiliated to the British Horse Society in Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, which is the largest equine charity in the UK. We are also members of the Open Spaces Society. We were represented at the inaugural meeting and instrumental in setting up the Horse Access Campaign Facebook page in September 2018.
Other committee members have bought other contacts and knowledge and so we have good communication channels with the Pony Club and the Riding for the Disabled organisations.
In the beginning, and some members will remember these, coffee mornings were held to raise money to hire a digger for a day to clear overgrown bridleways. This year we intend to spend some of our funds to improve the condition of a definitive bridleway which has fallen into disuse. The project in question concerns a definitive bridleway which has been out of repair for 12 years and the council has marked as a low priority so nothing will happen without our help.
We check the condition of as many definitive bridleways as we can, a time consuming and ongoing program. Reporting faults and communicating with the area wardens is easier now than it has ever been.
From the start we have developed our summer rides; first led by Peter Marzetti, Vanda Coulsey, Pete Burton and Tina Mortimer of different areas. Later we developed a ‘Read and Ride’ system which encourages riders to ride at their own speed and discover useable bridleways for themselves.
We now publish a ride list of all the fun rides we are aware of, including those run by other charities. This helps organisers avoiding clashing dates and enables riders to plan their days out in the summer. Some of these rides offer riding on some non-definitive routes which are open for that particular day by arrangement with the landowner.
Our fun rides are for our members and other riders. Insurance for our events is covered by our affiliation to the British Horse Society. As with other bridleway associations, fun rides are a major source of funds for the SSBA. Many of our members have seen the benefit of life membership and so annual income from subscriptions is low. Membership is given free of charge to under 18s when they sign up to our newsletter by email.
We have also developed longer rides using promoted routes in Devon and Dorset, the Wessex Ridgeway, the Coleridge Way and a ‘channel to channel’ route from the Bristol Channel across Somerset and Dorset to the English Channel. We are well positioned to design routes for members wishing to tackle other cross county routes. We also have a catalogue of horsey holidays away from home.
We carry out working parties when and where there is some clearance work we can accomplish. This saves the county’s maintenance team time and money and they are then more ready to help clear the bigger problems. Insurance for these working parties is covered by our affiliation to the British Horse Society if they have been informed of the date and place. It is our intention to champion a definitive bridleway which is out of repair each year.
In general, the county’s maintenance team is reactive rather than proactive, so if a bridleway is blocked they will not clear it until the problem is bought to their attention. There is a regular cutting program, but not many of the bridleways are on this schedule.
We publish a newsletter twice a year, and this is sent out by email unless there is a particular request for a paper copy.
We have an AGM in the autumn and after the formalities a guest speaker. Look out for this event on the Dates for your Diary page.