Supermarket giant Tesco has unveiled what it bills as an “affordable” equestrian range, promising customers change from £100 for head-to-toe riding kit, and leaving tack shops nervous.

Tesco’s move capitalises on record growth in the horse industry — the number of people riding in Britain has nearly doubled from 2.4m in 1999 to 4.3m this year.

The new equestrian range, covering everything from hats (£34.97) to jodhpurs (£14.93-£19.97), boots (£21.96), gloves (£1.97) and even a grooming kit (£6.92), will hit the shelves of 100 Tesco Extra stores across the UK on 11 May.

While Tesco’s entry into the market is seen as an indicator that equestrian sports have truly turned mainstream, specialist retailers are anxious about how this will affect their customer base.

British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) executive director Claire Williams told H&H equestrian retailers are already nervous after cut-price chains, including Aldi, Lidl UK and Netto, started the trend last year, offering hats and rugs for less than £10.

These stores stocked hats tested to the European EN1384 standard, which fall short of Pony Club and certain discipline/riding school rules, but Tesco’s hats are tested to the British BSEN1384 standard, complete with quality assured kitemarks.

Although Tesco’s hats ticked the right box in terms of standard, Ms Williams cautioned that expert fitting, together with professional advice, was equally important.

“You can have the safest hat in the world, but if it’s not fitted correctly it’s not going to do its job,” she said. “Specialist retailers will always provide professional advice and expert fitting.”

British Horse Society (BHS) senior safety executive Sheila Hardy said Tesco showed a duty of care to customers by sourcing hats with quality assurance marks. But she agreed “fitting is as important as standards”.

While Tesco stores will not provide an expert fitting service, a spokesman told H&H the hats would be displayed with instruction leaflets, including written guidance on fitting, “specifically written for a customer purchasing an item unassisted in stores”.

“We’re confident that customers will see there are instructions that they need to follow and make sure the hat fits,” said the spokesman, adding that no specific equestrian audience, such as beginners, was being targeted.

“We see the equestrian market as a growth sport and our range is about bringing affordable equipment to a broad range of people,” she said.

One North Yorkshire-based retailer, Sue Moxon, managing director of R&R Country, was jubilant about Tesco’s entry into the market.

“I think it’s the most positive thing that has happened,” she said. “In the short term, specialist retailers will hurt a bit, but I think in the long term the trickle-down effect will be positive because it will get more bums in saddles.

“Tesco will introduce people to riding who might never have thought about it or who thought the sport was elitist. And once they’re hooked, they’ll come to specialist stores.”

Not all retailers are as bullish. Claire Williams said most specialist retailers would not be able to match bargain prices offered by supermarket chains and cautioned them against getting into a price war.

“The challenge for specialist retailers is to continue offering a service supermarkets can’t,” said Ms Williams.

Janette Moss, founder of Janette Moss Horse Wear and a member of the BETA retail committee, said Tesco’s entry into the equestrian market was not a welcome move.

“It’s something we’re going to have to live with,” she said. “The real challenge will be to provide better service. Our trade is about personal service and I think that’s what we’ve got to focus on.”

  • This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (4 May, ’06)
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