ALMOST one in five men surveyed has given up riding in the past two years, according to official figures — further evidence that the recession is affecting equestrian sports.

The figures were revealed in Sport England’s Active People Survey, released last week.

A Sport England spokesman said: “Further scrutiny of the data will take place in coming weeks, but this trend is typical of high-cost, high-time sports in this recession.

“We’ve seen the same with skiing, sailing and golf. It seems a problem for men who are working harder and have less leisure time.”

High earners, the over 55s and pensioners have also significantly cut back on their equestrian activities and the number of people saying they compete has dropped in the past two years.

The findings are critical for equestrian sport, as the £4.2million funding to the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) was linked to a specific target to increase numbers riding to some 400,000 by 2013.

Official rider figures have declined to 337,800, compared with 346,900 in July, but funding will not be dropped, Sport England has announced (news, good week, 16 December).

The decline appears to be due to casual riders cutting back on their hobby, while those riding at least four times a week have increased.

Maggie Still, head of regulatory development at the BEF, expressed scepticism of the data and stressed it had been a random telephone survey of adults who were not chosen for their interest in equestrian sports.

“The other problem with the data is that it is difficult to understand the causes for the drop in riders. We are left making assumptions because we don’t know,” she said.

But Julian Marczak, chairman of the Association of British Riding Schools, said the survey was “realistic”. And Mark Weston, director of access at the British Horse Society (BHS), suggested riders are being more selective about the competitions they enter.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (30 December 2010)