The Strategy for the Horse Industry is now more likely become reality, thanks to the introduction of a definitive action plan. “It’s time for action,” Minister for the Horse Jim Knight told the National Equine Forum earlier today, and introduced the action plan which pinpoints how the Strategy’s eight aims are to be implemented and who will be responsible for this.

Launched last December, The Strategy for the Horse Industry in England and Wales documents ways that the horse industry can strengthen its contribution to the economy and lives of people in cities and rural areas. Mr Knight said: “The horse industry offers a multitude of social, educational and health benefits to the wider community, and the Government is committed to helping you promote and maximise these.” The Strategy’s eight aims include increasing participation in equestrian sports, raising the standard of equestrianism and creating better communication within the equine industry.

Horse enthusiasts can now see exactly how the government intends to bring these aims to fruition on a new website www.bhic.co.uk. The site, funded by Defra, provides a clear picture of how the Strategy is being implemented and who is co-ordinating each part of the action plan. Chairman of the British Horse Industry Confederation (BHIC) Graham Cory, said: “By visiting the new BHIC website you will be able to see how well – or otherwise – we are doing in delivering against the action plan. The website will also help us improve communications between organisations and with the wider community.”

Improved access to the countryside is one of the key aims of the Strategy. The website lists nine ‘actions’ that are already being undertaken to facilitate this, including high profile campaigns and the publishing of a ‘Good Practice Guide.’ Mr Knight explained how the introduction of ‘Access Enablers’ will help increase the amount of bridleways across Britain and Wales. “If the pilot is successful and brings real benefits, we will look at extending this around the country,” he said.

Insurance is another key issue on the Strategy agenda. In an effort to boost the economic performance of the equestrian industry, the aim is to halt the escalating costs of insurance premiums by teaching riding establishments how to improve the quality of their records. Graham Cory is also discussing with the Government ways of ensuring that the general public accepts the risks associated with riding. Mr Knight said he was sympathetic to complaints from horse owners about the infamous Mirvahedy insurance case. “I am keen to explore whether the effect of Mirvahedy on the 1971 Animals Act can be addressed. My officials are already working on this, with a view to possibly supporting an amendment to the 1971 Act. We expect to go out to consultation on this issue soon”.

The Country Land and Business Association welcome Defra’s support of an amendment to the Act. “We are pleased that Defra officials, as previously promised, are working on ways to address the effect of Mirvahedy on the Animals Act, with a view to possibly supporting an amendment to the 1971 Act” says the CLA’s chief legal adviser Dr Karen Jones. But the organisation fears that any delay will be damaging to the equine industry. “We are concerned that Defra now expects to go out to consultation on this issue this Spring, when the risk is that, unless the law is changed soon, many horse riding establishments will go out of business and horse riding will be something only wealthy people can afford to do,” Dr Jones continued.

“If the Government wish to really see sensible limits on the compensation culture, there is urgent need for an amendment of the Animals Act. The industry has provided the evidence – we urge the Minister to act now and secure a change in the law.”

Mr Knight will be meeting with the BHIC every six months to monitor the progress of the action plan. “With the publication of the action plan, the strategy has metamorphosed from a collection of worthy aims into a challenge,” Graham Cory concluded. “Collectively, the various equestrian and equine organisations, and Defra, will be judged by their record of delivering against the various action points.”

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