“A SUPPLY and demand predicament”, licensing and rising costs are among the issues faced by riding schools, as action is planned to protect their future.
British Equestrian (BEF) worked with the British Horse Society (BHS), the Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS), the Pony Club and the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) on “ground-breaking” research on the sector, and has now revealed its results.
A survey was sent to nearly 1,700 centres in March, and 311 responded.
“The standout message was they are in the midst of a supply and demand predicament, which is both a positive and negative,” a BEF spokesman said. “Interest in riding remains buoyant, but over two thirds of centres are struggling to keep up with enquiries and take on new clients, creating a barrier to increasing participation.
“Conversely, on average, centres are running at 75% capacity due to issues around workforce, paid and volunteer, suitable and affordable horsepower, and skyrocketing costs. Over 70% reported that these issues have been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, compounded by an average of 62% reduction of income since the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021.”
Licensing is also having an impact; the “costs, complexity and time involved are considerable”, which is frustrating for some respondents.
“This research data will help us better understand the current challenges, which we can use to work towards a viable future for our riding centres, and I’d like to thank all those who took time to facilitate and complete the survey, which has given us incredible insight,” said BEF head of participation Mandana Mehran Pour.
“It’s been an incredibly challenging time for our riding centres, who have shown remarkable resilience, and there is a degree of optimism. This study has highlighted the diversity of riding centres across the UK landscape, and the struggles they face to adapt and grow to meet challenges.
“British Equestrian, along with member bodies, is determined to support these centres to help equestrianism remain popular and accessible for all. We now need to identify and execute plans to best support these centres and make sure they can convert interest into income through what will be another highly turbulent year as the cost-of-living challenges intensify existing issues.”
BEF, with the other organisations involved, has pulled six key findings, from which short-, medium- and long-term projects will be developed. These are: workforce, horsepower, licensing, capacity demands, growth and costs. Plans include addressing the staff shortage, investigating options for sourcing horses, looking at licensing requirements and funding opportunities and monitoring rising costs.
The BEF has already made progress, and is working with Sport England to deliver the £195,000 Together Fund, to which centres can apply for grants.
Andy Holden, who owns Longfield Equestrian Centre in Lancashire with his wife Christine Farnaby, and responded to the survey, told H&H staffing is an issue.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to seems to be struggling to get staff,” he said. “That’s a problem, but rising costs are a big problem too.
“Electricity, feed; we’ve been in business over 40 years and have never known costs rise so much in such a short time. It’s good there are people trying to do something; the BHS helped us through Covid, which was really appreciated, and anything that could help in any way now will also be much appreciated.”
BHS CEO James Hick told H&H the society had given over £1.2m to schools during Covid, and that its careers fund and rehoming project with the RSPCA should help address staffing and horse-sourcing issues.
“This survey confirms that we must all play our part to support the industry so it can thrive,” he said. “Without this support, it could impact equestrianism for future generations”
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