The British Horse Society (BHS) is urging local authorities to clamp down on unlicensed riding schools, which it says are damaging the reputation of the industry.

Since the new year, the BHS has received a spate of reports from the public over unlicensed schools operating around the country.

Last week, the BHS began to lobby local authorities and galvanise registered schools to be vigilant.

Chris Doran of the BHS riding schools approvals department said: “It’s illegal to establish and run a riding school without a licence. Plus the issue of licensing goes hand in hand with insurance — or rather the lack of it.

“People should always check that a riding school is licensed with the local authority before using it. There’s a common misconception that we licence schools but we only approve those already licensed.”

Some schools sidestep licensing because it enables them to avoid paying a whole series of business costs, including adequate insurance and health and safety provisions. Non-licensed schools, which have low overheads, then undercut the legitimate schools.

Julian Marczak, chairman of the Association of British Riding Schools, wholeheartedly supports the BHS’s stance.

He said: “Unlicensed riding schools are a serious problem — our members report what we call ‘cowboy’ schools pinching their business.

“The worrying issue for us is the image these cowboy schools can give the business as a whole.

“They create a bad impression as they don’t subscribe to health and safety, proper teaching methods or ensure the welfare of the horses.”

H&H contacted four local authorities but none wished to comment.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (7 May, ’09)