HORSE riders in Epping Forest have to deal with problems such as dangerous dogs, exploding fireworks, drinking parties and motorbike racing since the number of keepers patrolling the area was reduced.

Members of the Epping Forest Riders Association (EFRA) used to ride freely in the forest, feeling safe with the knowledge that just around the corner there was always a forest keeper on horse back, ready to deal with any problem.

But the riders said that this service has been significantly reduced recently, and fear it could be scrapped altogether following a meeting held by the City of London Corporation, in which members of the public were banned.

Member of the association Val Vidler said the lack of forest keepers is a huge problem for horse riders.

She added: "We have heard that the mounted keepers will be gone by September and will use vehicles instead. If they are using vehicles they can't get into the forest very easily, and they won't notice things that you would on a horse.

"People often have dogs which are out of control and they have been known to attack horses. One horse had to be put down because it was hurt so badly by a dog."

EFRA's former Chairman Adrian Liddle said the whole situation was terrible.

He added: "The City of London Corporation is trying to push something through without us knowing about it until it's too late. We should be able to listen to the discussions and know what's going on.

"We used to have five mounted keepers and even more foot keepers, but now there are just two, and only about eight foot keepers, but they only respond to a reported incident.

"People are having drinking parties and riding motorbikes and there's no one there to enforce the bylaws. We had a situation only a week ago where a horse broke it's shoulder and the main keeper organised for transport to come. What would happen if there was no one there to do that?"

Rider Carol King has been a member of EFRA for 50 years.

She said: "There used to be a lot more keepers than there are now. At the moment, you can stop them and speak to them, but you can't if they are in vehicles. There used to be about six at one time, it's part of our licence that we are guaranteed two horse keepers."

A spokeswoman from the City of London Corporation confirmed there are just two mounted keepers, and 11 forest keepers who also patrol the area.

She said that both services were being reviewed and that members of the public were not invited to the meeting because it was a managerial decision.

Superintendent of Epping Forest Paul Thomson said: "Changes to the Epping Forest Horse-Mounted Officer Service and the wider Forest Keeper Team were considered by the Epping Forest and Commons Committee on May 11 2009.

"The report examined the opportunities available for providing a regular, friendly and proactive staff presence throughout the forest.

"The matter is now being discussed with the City of London's recongnised Unions and those staff directly affected. Once this dialogue is complete I will both meet with EFRA and make a public announcement on the future of horse-mounted officers at Epping Forest."