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Calls are growing for a trade organisation to regulate the horse transport industry in the wake of news that police are investigating the affairs of demised firm Highbarn, and that Whittaker Coachbuilders Ltd is also in liquidation.

“Recently, we’ve had appalling press showing what can happen to customers investing in a horsebox,” said Cliff Evans, director of lorry firm Equicruiser. “The way some companies trade has put the industry into disrepute — this is all the money some people have.

“We need something so that customers know they’re dealing with proper firms, not villains.”

A group including Mr Evans, Jon Phillips from the Organisation of Horseboxes and Trailer Owners, Oakley Coachbuilders, George Smith Horseboxes and Olympic Coachbuilders, have been discussing the formation of a trade body.

“It takes time getting people together, but we’re at the point of setting standards — financial, after-sales service, quality, health and safety and so on,” said Mr Phillips. “And we’ve learnt from recent events that financial standards are as important as any.”

According to Mr Phillips, the association will also encompass lorry hire businesses and professional transporters.

“The whole transport industry is affected,” he said. “Some small companies began hiring clean, quality boxes at a reasonable price, but then others came in, cutting corners and undercutting prices. And professional transporters are under pressure from drivers transporting horses illegally.

“There’s always a cowboy about, which is why we need a professional organisation, like Corgi [the national watchdog for gas safety].”

Brian Oakley, owner of Oakley Coachbuilders, told H&H the idea was good, but warned customers to be more wary.

“People have to be more careful,” he said. “If they go to an old farm where there are two or three coachbuilders, it’s not a proper company — and I don’t know how they can leave deposits.”

Mr Oakley said his company puts a customer’s name on the title of the chassis for the box in progress. Therefore, although the customer has paid a £20,000 deposit, they legally own the chassis cab even while it is in Oakley’s workshop.

Deposits were needed, said Mr Oakley, because if a customer changes their mind after a high-spec bespoke box has been built “you’re not necessarily going to sell it to someone else”.

  • Read the full story in today’s Horse & Hound (18 May, ’06)
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