You can lead a horse to water, but confusion reigns over whether you can ride one on Whangarei beaches without express approval from the Whangarei District Council.
Riding horses along the beach is a Northland tradition - but a Whangarei District Council bylaw states horses can only be ridden on beaches if signs are erected saying horses were allowed.
But several signs put up to comply with the bylaw had horse riders thinking they needed a permit from the council to ride on beaches.
Alan Hoggard, from Kauri, has been riding his horses Pepsi and Topaz along Ruakaka beach for years with no trouble, and was outraged after being told by a resident last week that he could not ride his horse on the beach without a council permit.
He turned up in tears at the Northern Advocate's door last week riding Pepsi, a 14-year-old appaloosa.
Mr Hoggard, who has spinal problems and a host of other medical disabilities, was so distraught he couldn't ride on the beach he was prepared to "die for it".
"It's my freedom, how dare they take that away from me."
He rode through the centre of Whangarei on Pepsi last Tuesday, alerting shoppers of his plight.
Mr Hoggard was reacting to signs put up along Ruakaka beach several days before Christmas, which showed a map of Bream Bay beach and stated: "Horses permitted with a WDC permit." But the council says it issues no such permits, and the signs were put up to fulfil obligations under its bylaw, which is being reviewed anyway.
The bylaw says no person shall ride or drive a horse or cattle on any beach, park or reserve "except where expressly allowed as indicated by Park and Reserve signage."
Grant Couchman, the council's regulatory services manager, said the law as it stands means horses are allowed on the beach only if signs are up - and the current signs are a way around that bylaw.
"We didn't want to exclude horses from the beach altogether, nor did we want to say that horses had free reign. We worked with DoC who obviously want to help protect the dunes, and the easiest thing to do was say that riders require a council permit."
Riders who contact the council would not in fact be required to apply for a permit, but it gave council the chance to know who was riding horses on the beach and remind them of their safety obligations, Mr Couchman said.
"We've had a few horse riders ring up wondering what's going on, but we're basically saying to them continue to ride your horse, just use common sense."
Council communications officer Ann Midson said she would speak to DoC to find a solution for the confusing wording on the sign.
Ian Hogarth of the Department of Conservation said a permit was required if vehicles - which included horses - crossed DoC land to get to the beach.
"The dune lands are quite sensitive and there are rare plants there. We encourage walking activities, but any other activity like horse activities, we ask that you get a permit."