• Canberra Nature Park;
  • environmental impacts;
  • horse riding;
  • recreational opportunities;
  • tracks and trails;
  • urban conservation area;
  • urban park

Summary We undertook a literature review of the impacts of horse riding in conservation areas, and used it to guide management of horse riding in Canberra Nature Park (CNP), a large, fragmented semi-natural park in and around the city of Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory. The literature review established that, because of their relatively large weight and small area in contact with the ground, horses have a relatively high potential for doing environmental damage. Impacts tend to be generally lowest for hikers, followed by motorcycles, horses and four-wheeled vehicles. One study showed horse traffic caused more damage on established trails than motorcycles, off-road bicycles or hikers. Most published studies of horse-riding impacts in Australia have been conducted in alpine and subalpine environments, and in temperate woodlands and forests on sandstone near Sydney. They have shown that impacts are generally highest in previously untracked areas. Impacts on established trails are generally most marked on sections of trail that are wet, boggy or steep, and on unplanned and unmaintained trails. Impacts are lowest on constructed and maintained trails. Trail proliferation, associated with avoidance of untrafficable sections and short-cutting, can be a major problem. Horses also have potential to spread weeds, because pastures and dried stock feeds contain large numbers of weed seeds that retain high levels of viability in horse manure. The risk of weed establishment is highest when manure is deposited in disturbed, damp sites, particularly when riding off-track. Much less weed establishment is apparent when horse riders remain on-track. Horse riding is a popular activity, but one that is relatively expensive to provide for, and one that may reduce opportunities for lower-impact recreational park users. For all these reasons it appears socially equitable that provision is made for lower numbers of horse riders compared to numbers of park users involved in lower impact, more passive, recreational activities. We conclude by describing how this information was used to develop principles to guide management of horse riding and assess risk at individual sites in Canberra Nature Park.