3 February 2023
For many years, the inconsistency of riding school licensing has been a bone of contention for the owners of riding schools and other licensed equestrian premises. Often the enforcement and licensing requirements vary wildly even for neighbouring counties, plus a mounting requirement for documentation leading to many owners finding the licensing process costly and confusing.
This has been raised in recent times by riding school associations such as the (Association of British Riding Schools) ABRS+ and British Horse Society (BHS), and concerns featured in the media. Finally there may be a solution in sight as a new partnership with local government should help ease the pressures of the often “burdensome” and inconsistent application of licensing regulations.
The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 have recently been reviewed, five years after they were implemented, which has caused further confusion for owners. The law covers a variety of animal-related businesses, with species-specific guidance, and a council licensing officer may have no equestrian knowledge and try to apply the rules where they are not relevant. This can mean a riding school on one side of a local authority boundary is happy with its officer, but another half a mile away is not leading to many owners claiming the current process is not “fit for purpose” Defra is now considering the rules and guidance.
In an interview with Horse and Hound, the BHS chief operating officer Sarah Phillips said the post-implementation review is on whether the legislation is working or whether changes need to be made. The BHS was among the stakeholders that completed a survey to this effect.
“A lot of people say they are unhappy with the legislation, but some of it may be misunderstanding of the guidance and riding schools’ not knowing how to push back and say to the local authority, ‘You’re not applying the guidance properly,’” she said. “There’s a lot of frustration.”
Ms Phillips said “in the main”, the legislation is sound, “but the way the local authorities implement it is what causes frustration and confusion because they’re not implementing it consistently, or misinterpreting it”.
The BHS has surveyed its approved centres and submitted their concerns to Defra as part of the review. It has also formed a “primary authority partnership” with the City of London Corporation, the lead local authority for this guidance. This means the BHS will meet the council quarterly – and has done so once already since the partnership was formed at the end of last year – and pass on concerns. Having considered them, the corporation will develop “assured advice”, which is passed on to all councils.
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