Equestrian community hold peaceful demonstration as horses ‘banned’ at Lough Mourne dam

Members of East Antrim’s equestrian community have held a peaceful demonstration after signs forbidding horse riding were erected at Lough Mourne reservoir.

Wednesday, 9th June 2021, 10:37 am

Laneways at the rural spot outside Carrickfergus - which is owned by NI Water - are frequently used by riders from Millennium Equestrian Centre, Dalways Bawn Livery Stables, and Horse Park Livery Stables, among others.

Carrick woman Sarah McCarthy was one of those who gathered at the dam with their horses on Sunday afternoon (June 6). “I initially saw the sign saying that the paths were not to be used as bridleways when I was out walking my dog last week,” she said.

“Many of us have been riding here for years, causing no chaos or damage. It’s a place that a lot of livery stables in the area would use for a safe off-road hack so it’s very valuable to us.

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Members of East Antrim's equestrian community held a peaceful demonstration at the reservoir.

“A few of us gathered at the dams with our horses on Sunday afternoon to peacefully demonstrate that we mean no harm. It also gave us a chance to discuss the issue, and the general consensus was that we wouldn’t mind having to apply for an annual permit for example, but it would be really detrimental to our livelihoods to be denied access to the laneways.

“We don’t want to cause a fuss; we just want to understand why the decision has been taken.”

Knockagh area councillor, Andrew Wilson, said he had contacted NI Water on behalf of constituents in an effort to establish why the signage was erected.

“I have also asked for confirmation that liability insurance is in place for the site. If so, then this would surely cover the use of the area by horse riders and livery yards,” the UUP representative added.

The laneways and paths at the dam are regularly used for hacking by horse riders from the surrounding area.

“I am aware of strong local sentiment to keep Lough Mourne dam open to horses. I am therefore working to get answers and to find solutions.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for NI Water said that the site was unsuitable for equestrian activities.

“Horse riding has never been a permitted activity at Lough Mourne Reservoir; the signs that have recently been put up replaced similar signage that had been vandalised," the spokesperson added.

“NI Water’s aim is to enhance the recreational experience for those who wish to use reservoirs for permitted activities. This particular site is a designated fishing lough with limited car parking facilities for walkers and fishermen. Unfortunately, it is not suitable for horse lorries or trailers."

Carrickfergus woman Sarah McCarthy said the dam was a 'valuable' location for horse riders.

A major investment of £160k was completed by NI Water at Woodburn South and Lough Mourne Reservoirs in 2019 to enhance facilities around the reservoirs and improve access for the public.

“Through the programme of work at Woodburn South and Lough Mourne, NI Water has worked to provide the following improvements: improved access to and around the reservoirs; new walking paths; new fishing stand, which incorporates disabled access (Lough Mourne), information signs and improved safety for the public," the NI Water spokesperson continued.

“NI Water, as the second largest land owner in Northern Ireland is keen to facilitate access to its land and waters for the public, organisations and groups to undertake a range of activities including fishing, dog walking, hiking, running, walking, horse riding and bird watching.”

The company pointed towards its Recreation and Access Policy, which provides a formal application mechanism for the public to use any NI Water owned land or body of water for recreational purposes.

Horse riders pictured at Lough Mourne.

A bridle path is also available at Woodburn Dams, the spokesperson added.

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One of the sings at the dam.