Volunteers responsible for maintaining a landmark white horse have been banned from working on it over Health & Safety concerns.

The Forestry Commission which owns the land will now look after the Yorkshire artwork, which was first carved into a hillside by a schoolmaster and his pupils in 1857.

Asked why the long face, the Kilburn White Horse Association, a charity which has overseen the horse’s upkeep for 161 years, say they are sorry to see it go out of their hands.

The Commission informed the volunteer group that for ‘Health & Safety reasons’ they can no longer work on the horse and that it will do the job itself.

The decision followed recent instructions to volunteers to stop using strimmers or mechanical devices as well as all chemical sprays in weeding sessions.

Out to pasture

Volunteers said feelings about the decision were mixed.

A spokesperson commented ‘We’ve been doing it happily for a long, long time. We are quite an elderly group, only a few are under 50, and maybe it’s best for the sake of the horse’.

The Commission says its workers will have specialist equipment to carry out maintenance and that the change is about keeping people safe.

But neighsayers point out generations of volunteers have cleared, cleaned and painted the horse without incident.

Spur of the moment

Association Chairman John Bielby said the decision came out of the blue.

He said ‘We’ve always had full insurance and were happy for the Forestry Commission to help us do the work as we are not getting any younger and it’s difficult getting younger volunteers’.

But he adds that they were suddenly told ‘that’s it you can’t go on the horse any more’.

Mr Bielby said the decision was ‘a bit of a bummer’ and that the Commission ‘just quote Health & Safety’. He says he has sent numerous emails asking which Health & Safety rule is behind the decision but is yet to receive a reply.

Mr Bielby said volunteers had for decades scrambled up the hillside and carried out the regular weeding and clearing jobs on their hands and knees. In more recent years, proper ropes and harnesses had been used to ensure everyone’s safety.

Mr Bielby claimed ‘We’ve never had an incident of any description – maybe a cut finger on the briar but that’s about it’.

Mane work

The Forestry Commission said it was grateful for the work and unbridled enthusiasm of Association members.

It added ‘We have been talking with them for a while and we both recognise that times have moved on and agree that the work on the steep slope is dangerous unless you have specialist equipment and appropriate training’.

High horse

The horse measures 304ft (93m) in length and is 228ft (69m) high.

Unlike the chalk horses in southern England, the Kilburn one is limestone and requires regular repainting to keep it white.

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