Women riders win fight

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The Independent Online
The ladies of Hawick will be allowed to join the Scottish border town's annual Common Riding Festival next month, after both sides in this celebrated sex war agreed to compromise.

The tradition - which goes back to mediaeval times, and appears to many observers to have been stuck there - is changing to allow women to take part in two of the currently all-male equestrian rideouts. As there are 16 in total, the agreement falls short of the Hawick Lady Riders' ambitions, but they have pinned hopes of further change on a new promise of further talks starting after this year's events.

The two mixed-sex events will be unofficial, preparatory rides. Women will still be barred from participation in the week-long official events in early June. They relented in their determination to take part in the rideout on 6 June, the main one in which townsmen follow their Cornet - the local lad who presides over the ceremonies - both to mark out ancient boundaries and to commemorate victory over English soldiers in 1514.

The compromise follows a year of acrimony among the 16,000 people of Hawick, which came close to the first ever cancellation of its main festival. When two women, Ashley Simpson and Mandy Graham, saddled up to take part last summer, they faced abuse, taunts and threats, one of which resulted in a court conviction. A senior Borders official yesterday warned of the continuing possibility of traditionalists trying to disrupt te mixed- sex rideouts this year, or even the nobbling of horses.

The women began a civil court action last month, backed by the Equal Opportunities Commission, in which a decision is awaited from a sheriff on whether the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act applies to the Common Riding. It was unclear yesterday if the action will be continued.