Disabled riders in North Wales have suffered a devastating blow after their horsebox was grounded.

The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) told the Clywd Special Riding Centre at Llanfynydd, Wrexham, last month that it needs a commercial operator’s licence for the 7.5tonne lorry as the centre has paid staff and is registered at Companies House.

But centre manager Tessa Chew said the charity cannot afford to apply for the licence.

She told H&H: “It’s crazy to classify us as a commercial organisation. We’re a charity. Our purpose is to give disabled people a chance to ride.

“We are thoroughly grounded. We can’t afford it. Just to apply for the licence costs around £400 and with the regular mechanical checks based on the mileage we do, we’d be paying out £1,500 a year.

“I know this doesn’t seem a huge amount of money, but we rely entirely on donations,” she said.

Ms Chew only discovered the regulation might apply to the centre after a casual conversation with a local trading standards officer.

She said: “I’m frustrated and disappointed for the 170 riders at this centre who now won’t be able to compete.

“We also transport the horses for all the North Wales RDA [Riding for the Disabled Association] groups to go to competitions, so this will impact on the entire region.”

Chris Slowley, senior operator licensing policy adviser at VOSA, said this is not a new regulation:

“It is necessary to consider whether the charity is being run on a commercial basis — for example, are there any paid employees such as drivers, managerial or admin staff — and if the charity is registered with Companies House.”

“Where this is the case, it may be considered that the charity is being run on a commercial basis and it would require an operator’s licence.”

The Clywd Special Riding Centre has been operating for over 27 years as a base for four RDA groups and as a centre for riding holidays for the disabled.

Chief executive of the RDA Ed Bracher said: “I think it’s disappointing that a charity is being forced to do this. Now we know this, it could have huge implications for others in the same position.

“Safety is paramount, but this feels like a lack of flexibility getting in the way of the good work of a charity.

“We will talk to VOSA but I don’t hold out much hope based on past experience.”

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (15 October, ’09)