Future of disabled riding arena saved after two-year battle

A riding arena for disabled horse-riders in Somerset has been saved, after a two-year battle with the council.

A year ago, North Somerset Council[1] refused retrospective planning permission for the riding arena, throwing the future of the facility — which has sent riders to the Special Olympics — into doubt[2]. But, in a meeting of the council’s planning committee on November 15, councillors voted to allow it to stay.

Bridget Mackwood, who has been working with disabled riders for more than fifty years, had the all-weather riding arena built on her land near Long Ashton in January 2021 after feeling that the woods had got too busy for people to practise their riding safely. The arena is built on milk crates and is about four inches of the ground with a white fence and a surface that allows horses to be ridden there when fields would be too muddy.

The all weather riding arena at Gatcombe Lane (Photo: Bridget Mackwood)

One rider who has been training at the arena was Millie Boult, who went on to win gold in dressage at the Special Olympics in Berlin this summer.

Ms Mackwood said she had been told that as a “mobile” structure, the arena would not need planning permission from the council. But, finding out later that she had needed planning permission, she submitted a retrospective application in June 2021 — only for this to be turned down.

Issuing a decision notice in November 2022, planning officers at the council described the riding area as an “obtrusive form of development.”[5]

Now, a year on, councillors have overturned the decision after a new planning application was made. Ms Mackwood proposed new landscaping to shield the arena from view, and painting the white fence dark green.

Former Points West presenter Steve Brodie, a neighbour in the village, spoke in support of the plans at the meeting. He told councillors: “This is an excellent proposal to provide training for disabled children who would otherwise go without. [...] To object to this provision is quite extraordinary.”

But Long Ashton’s local councillor Stuart McQuillan said that more needed to be changed before he would support granting planning permission. He said: “I am not against this sort of business operating in the green belt, I just think this particular arena in this particular place is too big and too obtrusive.”

Other councillors voiced their support, however. Clevedon South councillor Hannah Young argued that part of maintaining the green belt was allowing people to use it. She added: “Personally, I don’t think it looks obtrusive.”

Councillors voted 7-5 to grant planning permission and let the riding arena stay.

Bridget Mackwood outside Weston-super-Mare Town Hall where the decision was made Bridget Mackwood said she was "excited for the future" as councillors granted planning permission after the the two-year battle

Ms Mackwood said: “I am so excited for the future being able to help young people lead better lives.”

Ms Mackwood became involved with disabled riders in 1967 when she started fundraising for the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA), although this riding arena is her own endeavour and not affiliated to the charity.


  1. ^ North Somerset Council (www.somersetlive.co.uk)
  2. ^ throwing the future of the facility — which has sent riders to the Special Olympics — into doubt (www.somersetlive.co.uk)
  3. ^ Controversial allotment site in North Somerset village approved (www.somersetlive.co.uk)
  4. ^ Work on multi-million-pound Somerset bypass expected to start in May (www.somersetlive.co.uk)
  5. ^ planning officers at the council described the riding area as an “obtrusive form of development.” (www.somersetlive.co.uk)