The British Horse Society has urged government to provide significant rates relief for all riding schools rather than the selective scheme only for new establishments set up on farms.

The BHS, in response to government consultations, has pointed out that riding schools are suffering severe economic difficulties leading to closures.

The society’s Riding Schools Approval office reports that a further 272 schools closed in the past 12 months.

Currently the BHS has 715 approved schools on its list, compared with 774 in 1993. A survey conducted by the Association of British Riding Schools last year indicated a 21% decline in numbers since 1988, with a current total of 2,371.

John Prescott has announced a proposal whereby new equestrian enterprises such as riding schools and trekking centres could receive 50%rate relief, and up to 100% in some cases, for the first five years, plus short cuts through planning regulations to use redundant farm buildings for such enterprises.

Michael Clayton, chairman of the BHS, said: “We appreciate the difficulties of the farming industry and would like to see them alleviated, but we have pointed out to government that their proposals will provide tough new competition for existing ridingschools leading to still more closures.

“We have also pointed out to government that its proposals are only likely to accelerate the trend towards do-it-yourself-riding schools springing up in redundant farm buildings, which is already happening.

“The only way of achieving growth in this market in order to support new entrants is to improve the economic conditions for riding schools.”The BHS made the above points through the British Equestrian Federation and the British Horse Industry Confederation which is now making consultation responses to the DETR.

The department is considering which options to take before enacting primary legislation on farm diversification in the new year.