Posted on 13th March 2023

One year on: the next step to a viable future for Britain’s riding establishments

Twelve months after completing a comprehensive survey to measure the ‘Health of Riding Establishments’, British Equestrian (BEF), working with the British Horse Society (BHS), the Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS+), The Pony Club (PC), the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) and horsescotland, has launched a follow up to further understand the challenges faced, build on the insights learned and discover trends. Aimed at anyone who owns or manages a riding school, equestrian training centre or livery yard, the survey focuses on learning more about the current operating environment and issues establishments face with the aim of how we can collectively best support viability in the sector across the federation.

The survey is now live  – it should take about 20 minutes to complete, and we’d encourage respondents to be as honest as possible. All centres who take part can opt into a prize draw to win one of five pallets of High Fibre Nuts from British Equestrian partner Dodson & Horrell, worth over £1200. The survey closes at midnight on 31 March. A link to take part has been emailed directly to all centres we collectively hold details on but if any riding establishment hasn’t had a link via one of the organisations involved and would like to take part, please email participation@bef.co.uk.

The standout message from the 2022 survey was that riding centres were in the midst of a supply and demand predicament, which is both a positive and negative. While interest in riding remained buoyant, over two thirds of centres were currently struggling to keep up with enquiries and take on new clients, creating a barrier to increasing participation.

Workforce, both paid and volunteer, rising costs and horsepower were primary concerns last year with, on average, centres running at 75% capacity due to these issues.

Another challenge having an impact on some businesses was council licensing requirements and processes. The costs, complexity and time involved are considerable, and this is a source of frustration for some of the centre proprietors.

The research data helped us better understand the challenges faced by riding centres, which we have used to work towards a viable future for our riding centres with a number of initiatives introduced in the course of 2022.

A working group of BEF, BHS, ABRS+, PC and RDA has been established to focus on licensing that meets quarterly to co-ordinate our lobbying to government under a united approach as we campaign for an improved, consistent process. The BHS is leading and has made considerable progress towards ‘assured advice’ which outlines how councils should implement licensing guidance. In addition, The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 have been reviewed and feedback has gone to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for their consideration.

Funding of £175,000 has been made available through British Equestrian’s Together Fund as well as £54,000 worth of resilience support, both secured from Sport England to help centres with their recovery post-Covid.

The Pony Club has supported their Linked Riding Centres by helping to keep riders engaged in non-ridden activities, utilising The Pony Club Badge Training Pathway, as Centres navigate the current horsepower and staffing challenges. This has offered a way for Centres to continue to build a client base with reduced demand on existing resources. The Pony Club also increased the revenue share of Centre Membership to offer greater financial support and Pony Club Centre Coordinators continue to offer ongoing guidance and resources to help maintain fun, friendship and the horsemanship skills needed for riders of the future.

Workforce support has come from the Career Transition Fund established by the BHS to help them progress qualifications while British Equestrian launched a bursary programme which funds new or existing coaches at 50% to help with their qualifications. The BHS is also helping directly with their approved centres with financial skills and business support workshops. As an overview, British Equestrian is also engaged in a project to map out coaching qualifications and continuous professional development requirements across the federation.

The BHS introduced their ‘Second Chance’ project, piloted in 2019, which rehomes mistreated and rescued horses into BHS approved centres where staff are equipped to rehabilitate these horses. Linking centres to equines in need is helping towards the horsepower issues while giving the horses a chance to have a better life.

“Last year’s survey gave us considerable insight and a great deal of encouragement in that most riding establishments were optimistic about their future. However, there are enormous challenges for them and, working with our member bodies, we want to further understand these issues and how best we can support them. In the survey of 2022, riding establishments were working hard on their post-Covid recovery and within 12 months are now faced with the cost of living crisis and a significant rise in operational expenses which makes this research more important than ever.” commented Mandana Mehran Pour, Head of Participation at British Equestrian.

“Working collaboratively, we’ve already introduced a number of initiatives to support centres who are registered with organisations in the federation which have gone some way to help them short term with plans to work on long term viability as we strive to balance out the ‘supply and demand’ situation we currently face,” she concluded.

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