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Pammy Hutton: ‘How lengthy earlier than a whip is deemed merciless?’

  • Pammy Hutton discusses social licence, and the plight of riding schools

    In 2022, we all need social licence – public acceptance that we’re doing the right thing – to enjoy our horses.

    The internet has changed everything, of course. On the plus side, it means we can view competitions online, a recent highlight being Carl Hester’s masterful riding of a very hot En Vogue at Keysoe CDI in March. I remain in total awe of Carl, and truly hope softness and harmony remain key to dressage worldwide. Carl is in a class of his own.

    On the other hand, how long before, for example, working a horse from the ground with a whip to develop the piaffe (without fear-induced adrenaline) is considered by those watching on social media to be “cruel” or “abusive”? It’s our job collectively to educate the public about equine instincts and behaviour. It’s a huge subject that needs a united stance to explain that, so often, it’s not the whip but the touch.

    Video footage of Sir Mark Todd encouraging a horse with a tree branch didn’t look great. He’s among the world’s best horsemen, and he apologised; but the ceaseless condemnation over social media became, for me, the greater crime.

    If we’re not careful, all riding will be done dressed as snowflakes, with no competitions and possibly never riding at all.

    Do your research

    This brings to me riders’ mental health. Exactly who should one go to for help? In my book, there are too many unqualified experts out there jumping on the bandwagon and giving advice.

    The title “sport and exercise psychologist” is a protected term, making it illegal for anyone to use it unless they are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council.

    However, it is possible to become a ”sports performance coach” by completing an online course and gaining a diploma. And, for some, that grand-sounding “diploma” is enough.

    Getting help with mental health is a must. But, like choosing a therapist for your horse, it involves homework.

    We need more riding schools

    The sad news that the excellent Contessa Riding Centre has closed is a stark reminder of how tough it is for riding schools. Rising prices, staff shortages and complete disrespect for licensing laws by some freelance coaches who think it’s OK to teach using their own horses are all contributing to riding schools’ demise.

    The illegal practice of people encouraging people to pay cash to ride their own horse is not helping those who pay to be legitimate. Many current top equestrian stars started their riding careers in a riding school, let’s not forget.

    How wonderful to see four new British Horse Society Fellows – Lisa Morris, Kylie Roddy, David Sheerin and Jayne Smart – gain their qualification recently. They’ve followed diverse pathways, but all accessed help along the way in a riding school.

    Change of scenery

    It was good to get out of my home area to compete recently. Did I have a lucky day? Perhaps. Or was it a fresh pair of eyes from a List One judge?

    On a show day, I usually turn right on approaching Cirencester; it seems turning left to drive to a new venue worked. Meanwhile, a correctional shoulder support has really helped my posture.

    On the way home from the show, the beleaguered Ukrainian equestrian community popped into my mind. What they wouldn’t give for such a lovely day out.

    Tim Downes and I raised £5,000 through a webinar, with another scheme coming soon. It’s fantastic to see UK equestrians going above and beyond for the good of the horse. Well done to all those working hard on every front.

    > Do you agree with Pammy about our sport’s social licence? Let us know at

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 14 April

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