Working with horses will always require long hours in sometimes challenging weather conditions, and over the past few years employers have told H&H they are finding it tough to find staff.

It is a problem that is growing industry-wide, but has come under the spotlight recently, particulary in racing (Horse & Hound, 5 November). Figures show there is a shortfall of about 400 staff in the racing industry, with 100 of those being skilled work riders.

In order to tackle this, British Racing has launched a number of new initiatives to make the prospect of being a member of stable staff more attractive, investing £1m to address the issue.

Tackling a shortage in skilled riders

Part of the plan to combat the lack of experienced riders is to bring in equestrians from other disciplines.

In his comment in the National Hunt special (H&H, 5 November) trainer Paul Nicholls said the main difficulty he encountered was finding skilled work riders.

“It’s tough. Good riders are not always forthcoming,” he said.

In a campaign that started last month, the The British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) careers team are now targeting equine colleges to attract riders outside of racing, and have produced a video campaign with trainer and former showjumper Rebecca Curtis on the benefits of swapping disciplines.

The BHA has worked with 13 colleges so far and said the reaction has been favourable.

“We want to show people they can move between sectors,” said the BHA careers team’s Zoe Elliott.

“People may have grown up with horses but not thought about racing. We need to break down the idea that the sports are an exclusive club and encourage the idea that that one discipline can feed into another; they could return to their original discipline later having learnt new skills.”

The lack of skilled riders is a country-wide problem, but is concentrated in some areas, especially Newmarket.

“I think it’s partly because there’s more competition, more trainers, more horses. But there also seem to be fewer people that want to do it — it’s a hard way to make a living,” said Gloucestershire trainer Fergal O’Brien.

Trainer David Pipe told H&H that it was “as hard as it’s ever been” to find staff.

“It’s a difficult job and all year round — maybe they’re put off by that,” he added.

In a further bid to find competent riders to fill the shortfall, a three-month social media trial was launched last month, targeting riders in Europe.

“It is all done in English, so they have to have a good standard of the language,” said Carole Goldsmith, director of people and development at the BHA.

“We are testing this new digital route and with luck we will find riders with good abilities and match them with trainers.”

Employer-led training opportunity

For those who feel they’ve missed their time for school-based training, a pilot employer-led training programme has also been set up to enable new recruits aged 19 years and over to enter the racing industry by learning on the job.

The trainer receives funding to take on the unskilled workers, who will learn “on the ground” at the trainers’ yards.

The National Trainers Federation’s Rupert Arnold told H&H the reaction from trainers at regional meetings late last year was positive.

“It’s still early days, but it has been well received and is an entry point for people who might have a lot of experience with horses, but not in racing,” he added.

Averting a crisis

The BHA wants 1,000 more horses in training by 2020, which means more staff in an already depleted pool, which is part of the reason the organisation is taking strong action now.

“We are not at crisis levels yet, but could be if we didn’t act,” said the BHA’s Robin Mounsey.

For more information visit: www.careersinracing.com