13 March 2023
One of the key findings announced at the 2023 National Equine Forum on 2 March, during a session on the opportunities and challenges for the future of the equestrian sector, included that 250 riding schools have closed since 2018 – although there has been a slight increase in participation in horse sport.
“I think we can all recognise that riding schools are the lifeblood of participation,” he said. “With that in mind, should we be concerned that riding is at risk? The BHS carried out research to understand how the recreational riding landscape is changing.”
Mr Hick said the BHS asked all local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales, to ask how many animal licences involving horses each had issues. Almost 100% responded.
“We’ve seen a 15% drop in riding schools,” Mr Hick said. “That’s 250 less than in 2018, leaving just 1,497 in Great Britain, giving 1.5m fewer riding lessons.
“When you think about it, that means for potential equestrians, 1.5m fewer opportunities for children, or adults, to build a love of horses and experience the benefits of riding. It’s an extreme decline, which is very concerning.”
Mr Hick added that there is a positive side; demand on rising schools has “never been stronger”. Most centres report waiting lists, he said.
“So why the decline?” he asked. “The most common reason is that owners are retiring, or the staffing crisis is preventing them recruiting enough staff to run their centres.”
There has also been a huge increase in the number of horse-related licences for non-riding businesses such as pony parties and equine-assisted learning centres, giving people their first experience of horses and “the start of a passion we must nurture”.
“We know the horse-human relationship can be transformational; we know most recreational and professional riders start their journeys as children in riding schools.”
Mr Hick said a priority must be to continue to address workforce issues – he said the BHS has had 1,400 applications for its education grant announced at last year’s forum – and provide practical business support to riding schools.
“We must come together as an industry to promote the benefits of riding in holistic terms, most importantly to the non-riding public,” he said. “I do believe riding is at risk; it’s our responsibility to collaborate and lead the transformation that’s under way.”
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