Is ‘This Girl Can’ campaign encouraging new riders? [H&H VIP]

With headlines such as “sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox” and “I kick balls, deal with it”, a new video campaign targeting women aims to quash the fear of being judged negatively as a barrier to taking part in sport. In a bid to get girls of all ages, sizes and abilities to get active the new campaign, This Girl Can, was launched by Sport England last month (12 January).

Statistics from the British Equestrian Trade Association show that riding is already bucking the trend in female participation, with women making up more than 73% of the equestrian community.

At elite level, equestrianism is the only individual Olympic discipline in which men and women compete on an equal footing, and women have always held their own.

The health benefits of riding have also been well documented, with the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) arguing that 60 minutes of riding can burn off nearly 500 calories — equivalent to an hour-long swim.

Eighty-five-year-old H&H reader Shirley Shea believes that riding has been vital in maintaining her health.

“I keep fit by hacking out two or three times a week,” she said. “My health is above average for my age.”

The BEF hopes the new campaign will help to entice more women into the sport.

“It is time to spread the message that horses don’t care if you wiggle, jiggle or pant your way around an arena; instead you’ll find a willing exercise partner and friend who will help you to double the sweat,” said a spokesman.

Already an objective

At the end of 2012 and on the back of a successful Olympics, horse sport was told it would receive £6m in funding from Sport England.

The BEF’s main legacy brand is Hoof, which is a network that aims to promote the sport through a series of initiatives and activities.

One of the initiatives was Take Back the Reins, which was designed to attract adults who had ridden in the past back into the saddle.

According to figures from the BEF, from between October 2012 and June 2014 the scheme seems to be working. Some 16,900 more females over the age of 16 are now involved in the sport, and there has also been an increase of people aged between 30-34, 45-54 and 65+ riding at least once a week.

Sarah Robertson, who runs Valley Farm Equestrian Leisure in Suffolk, told H&H that its Take Back the Reins programme has been a “great success”.

“It’s a lovely informal way for ladies — and gents — to get back into horses and meet others with the same interest,” she said.

The centre now also runs a riding keep fit class alongside Take Back the Reins classes.

“It’s good fun, even I do it,” Sarah added.

Realistic expectations?

Howeber, how realistic is it that even more women can be encouraged to take part in the sport? The expense involved and access to riding is a constant challenge for the industry.

Even with the BEF’s initiatives, many women who have ridden to a high standard in their childhood often find it difficult to stay involved.

“I have tried two stables in London, and while in both cases the instructors were excellent, it was more than £50 for an hour’s lesson and the horses we rode just weren’t suitable,” said Sarah Booth, who works full-time as a strategy director in London.

“In one case I rode a 13.2hh pony called Barbie who, although nice, was clearly on her third or fourth outing of the day.”

Kezia Quinn, 27, has also found it difficult to access a suitable riding school within the constraints of working hours.

“I found a really good stable, but using public transport it took more than an hour and a half to get there,” Miss Quinn said.

“Although the lessons are expensive I would be happy to pay for the higher quality, but I don’t have the time to invest in the travel.”

There is also concern that not enough children are being encouraged to take up the sport at a young age.

Former H&H editor Lucy Higginson explained that her local riding school near Windsor would not take her daughter Madeleine until she was seven.

“When she was five our local gymnastics club was keen to take her on and give her opportunities, and now she is completely hooked.

“Athletic children can exceed in so many sports so it often comes down to price and availability. The price of riding lessons in this area worked out at £1 a minute.”

Industry in need of support

Are cost and access really the biggest barriers to people getting involved in the sport?

H&H reader Rachel McIlroy argues that although lessons can be expensive, the cost is not insurmountable.

“A fortnightly group lesson often equals the same amount as a parent giving up their coffee on their way into work in the morning,” Ms Mcllroy said.

“You can also learn to ride with the most minimal of equipment as most stables will have hats, so it’s only appropriate footwear and legwear that’s needed to start.”

Julian Marczak, from the Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS), agrees that
cost is not the biggest issue facing equestrian participation.

“The main problem is the same that every sport faces, which is that with modern technology people are living increasingly sedentary lifestyles,” he told H&H.

“In addition riding faces tough competition from other sports, and centres need to be given more financial support in order to make it an environment people want to be in.

“It is hard for a riding school to compete with a shiny golf club up the road.”

“The ABRS would applaud any initiative from the government, such as tax breaks, that would help riding schools get on an equal footing.”

Ref: H&H Thursday 29 January, 2015