Horse riding policy

Horse riding is a popular activity. However, it can generate impacts on a park’s environment and must be carefully managed.

Horseriding is a popular activity allowed in some national parksMany Australians associate horse riding with exploration, settlement and bush skills, and enjoy riding in natural areas. Some geographic areas will be more closely associated with the use of horses than others.

All recreational activities, including horse riding, can generate impacts on a park’s environment and must therefore be managed in accordance with legislative requirements and the objectives for which certain lands are reserved. The National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 requires that the principles of ecologically sustainable development be applied to achieve the purposes of the Act.

Policy

Where can I ride in a park?

1. The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) will allow appropriate recreational horse riding in selected parks, subject to conditions. Appropriate locations will be identified during the development of a plan of management or statement of management intent for a park. Where a park does not have a plan of management or statement of management intent, recreational horse riding may be permitted with the consent of NPWS or by the authority of a notice erected within a park.

2. Because of the inherently diverse range of landscapes, soils and ecological communities represented within the park system, the appropriateness of horse riding will be assessed for each park and for specific locations within a park.

3. In determining whether recreational horse riding will be allowed within a park, NPWS will consider the impacts that horse riding may have on:

  • the existing environment
  • threatened species, endangered populations or endangered ecological communities
  • soil erosion and weed invasion
  • water quality
  • areas or objects of cultural heritage significance.

NPWS will also consider:

  • the management principles for the park
  • the adopted plan of management or statement of management intent for the park
  • the history of horse riding in the park
  • opportunities for horse riding in the region surrounding the park
  • outcomes of any research or monitoring of visitor use in the park.

Recreational horse riding will not be permitted in Aboriginal areas and nature reserves because of the specific conservation requirements of these reserve categories. However, horse riding may be permitted on park roads or public roads in these parks, with the consent of NPWS (for example, in a plan of management) and following consideration of the matters outlined in paragraph 3 of this policy.

5. Horse riding is generally considered inappropriate in wilderness areas; however, horse riding can occur in some locations when permitted under the relevant park’s plan of management. 

6. Where horse riding in wilderness is permitted, trails will be identified by signs or other means. No facilities, developments or improvements will be provided to accommodate horse riding access and use.

7. Recreational horse riding will be allowed, subject to paragraph 3 of this policy, on identified roads, trails and areas within parks. The unauthorised marking or blazing of trails is prohibited.

8. Identified recreational horse riding trails and areas will:

  • provide a high-quality experience for horse riders
  • facilitate a greater awareness, knowledge and understanding of a park’s natural values
  • ensure that interaction between park visitors is safe and harmonious.

9. The Australian Alp national parks website lists the areas where horse riding is permitted. The Bicentennial National Trail, which runs from north Queensland to Victoria, traverses many parks and has approval for use by recreational horse riders, including designated camping.

10. NPWS may introduce a permit system to control the level and intensity of horse riding in order to manage its impacts, particularly in environmentally sensitive areas of a park. Permits will be issued under clause 31 of the National Parks and Wildlife Regulation 2009.

11. Where possible, NPWS will consult relevant stakeholders before introducing a permit system in a park. NPWS will also explore alternative management mechanisms to achieve the park’s management objectives.

12. Horse riding that forms part of an organised competition, large-scale organised horse-riding activities (including non-commercial), and commercial horse-riding operations (which are of a one-off nature or of short duration) will require written consent from NPWS under clauses 21 and 22 of the National Parks and Wildlife Regulation 2009.

13. Commercial operators who provide ongoing commercial activities will require a fee-paying licence under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.

14. For activities or events that are licensed or approved under paragraphs 12 and 13, conditions that will apply include (but are not limited to):

  • current public liability insurance
  • the organiser of the activity or event to indemnify the Minister, the Government of NSW, the Chief Executive of OEH, and all their agents, servants, contractors and employees
  • payment of a processing fee
  • the organiser of the activity or event to make good any damage that may be made to the park, its roads, or other infrastructure as a result of the activity or event.

15. An appropriate level of environmental assessment, such as a review of environmental factors (REF), may be required as part of the assessment of consent or licence applications for activities referred to in paragraphs 12 and 13.

16. OEH has developed a code of practice for horse riding in parks in consultation with representatives of peak horse riding groups, environment groups and other relevant stakeholders. The Code of Practice is a guide for all horse riders and horse enthusiasts about riding in parks, such as safe practices to avoid environmental damage, camping and driving with horses, and group events.

17. All recreational horse activities must be conducted in accordance with the Code of Practice for Horse Riding in Parks.

18. Opportunities for overnight camping with horses will be limited to specific locations or areas within parks and will be consistent with paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 of this policy and the visitor accommodation policy which specifies environmentally and culturally sensitive areas in which camping may be restricted or not permitted. The provision of overnight horse camping facilities may therefore vary from park to park, and will be unavailable in some parks, due to the varying resilience of different ecosystems and cultural heritage areas of the park that require protecting.

19. A fee may be charged for overnight camping where camping facilities are provided.

20. The total, partial or periodic exclusion of recreational activities, including recreational horse riding, may be imposed as a temporary measure where the director considers it appropriate. This exclusion may occur where use of the park must be restricted because of:

  • park operations (such as pest or weed management, hazard-reduction burning or trail maintenance)
  • special initiatives (such as scientific studies)
  • severe weather and incidents which present a risk to visitors or their animals (such as fire management)
  • conditions of increased ecological stress (such as extended drought or after bush fires).

21. Where access restrictions are imposed, NPWS will try to make park users aware of them and, where practicable, will remove notices related to temporary access restrictions when the restrictions cease.

22. Where indications of adverse environmental impacts emerge, the total, partial or periodic exclusion of recreational activities, including recreational horse riding, may be imposed as a temporary or permanent measure where deemed appropriate by the director. Where possible, the director will consult with peak horse riding groups regarding management issues and any temporary or permanent access restrictions.

23. Riders must contact park staff as soon as possible if horses escape or are lost or injured, and if vehicle access is needed to recover horses in areas not normally open to vehicles. Horses found straying may be impounded. If horses have to be destroyed, details must be reported to park staff. Note that under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 firearms are not permitted in parks.

Policy adopted in 1989

Objectives

This policy aims to:

  • guide recreational horse riding in an environmentally sustainable way in parks 
  • provide opportunities for horse riders that enhance their understanding and appreciation of natural and cultural values of parks
  • help the National Parks and Wildlife Service and horse riders communicate
  • ensure that the mix of horse riding and other recreational uses in a park is safe, equitable, harmonious and enjoyable for all park visitors
  • promote a flexible and responsive approach to the management of recreational horse riding and the protection of the natural and cultural values of parks 
  • manage horse riding in some locations in wilderness areas.

Scope and application

This policy applies to all lands acquired or reserved under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act). This policy does not apply to lands reserved under Part 4A of the Act unless the Board of Management for those lands has adopted the policy. However, the policy still provides guidance for staff in their dealings with Boards of Management.

Definitions

Aboriginal area means lands dedicated as an Aboriginal area under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act).

Commercial operator means a person, persons or organisation operating a business delivering an organised activity relating to tourism, education or recreation in parks.

Large-scale organised activity means any group activity involving more than 40 persons in total (that is, including horse riders and any support persons involved in the activity), or such other number of persons as is stated in a plan of management for the park or stated in a notice erected in the park, whichever is the lesser (see clause 22 of the National Parks and Wildlife Regulation 2009).

Park means any land acquired or reserved under NPW Act.

Park category means the type of park reserved under the NPW Act, that is, a category such as national park, nature reserve, state conservation area, karst conservation reserve, historic site, regional park or Aboriginal area.

Park road is a road reserved as part of a park and open for use by the public, including (in this policy) roads on Part 11 land.

Part 11 land means lands vested in the Minister for the Environment under Part 11 of the NPW Act.

Public road means a road open for use by the public, but not reserved as part of a park.

Recreational horse riding means the riding or other use of horses for recreation or leisure activities (including horse-drawn carriages or drays). It includes activities such as trail riding, endurance riding and horse trekking. Recreational horse riding does not include the use of horses for search and rescue operations, scientific research and other park management purposes.

Review of environmental factors (REF) means an assessment of the impacts of an activity under Part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, required for approving activities under legislation, including the NPW Act and the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.

Severe weather means any weather conditions for which the Bureau of Meteorology has issued a warning. Examples include warnings for a Fire Danger Index (FDI) of 45–50 or higher; wind speed of 65 km/h or greater; heavy rains and floods.

Wilderness (or wilderness area) means an area declared as wilderness under the Wilderness Act 1987