‘It’s wonderful so many felt able to support us’: British Dressage thanks membership and eyes ‘bright future’ after Covid storm

  • Members’ support has pulled British Dressage (BD) through the Covid storm as the sport looks to the dawn of a “bright future” post pandemic.

    BD’s coffers have taken a hit, which will continue to be felt for some time, but the picture painted at the organisation’s AGM (6 October) is peppered with positives.

    The organisation’s total balance dropped to £3.4m, compared to £4.8m in 2019. This was mitigated to some extent by costs dropping from £4.6m to £3.3m in the same time period.

    “It’s important to note that the full financial impact of Covid will be seen over a two-year period at least, with a loss forecast in 2021,” said finance director Caroline Godfrey.

    “While members did retain benefits during lockdown, apart from the ability to compete, it was wonderful so many felt able to support us throughout. But equally horse registration extensions were offered, as lockdowns continued, and the impact of this will also be reflected in 2021 because we’ve spread the original horse registration income over a much longer period.”

    She added that there are other extra costs, in addition to the registration extension, and BD is also reviewing its use of reserves with support of the sport and the business in mind.

    “We won’t sit on cash just for the sake of sitting on cash, but we have to hold all these different factors in balance,” she said.

    BD chief executive Jason Brautigam told the meeting membership and horse registrations have been “incredibly buoyant” under the circumstances.

    “Our total membership is now at its highest levels since January 2019 and our horse registrations are at record levels,” he said.

    Horse registrations are at 16,100, compared to 12,600 this time last year, with membership numbers at 17,200, compared to 14,700.

    “At the lowest point during the pandemic, our membership fell below 14,000, so that is quite a remarkable recovery,” Mr Brautigam added.

    BD chairman Linda Whetstone said the majority of the 2021 fixtures calendar was salvaged, despite three months of lockdown, and spoke of the success of a “tremendous summer despite the difficulties earlier in the year”.

    “We couldn’t have weathered the storm of this Covid crisis without the loyalty and commitment you have all shown us,” said Mrs Whetstone, thanking all those involved in the sport with helping them “get back onto the road to recovery”.

    British Dressage AGM: whiskers, spurs and livestreaming

    Sport operations director Simon Bates reminded members that the ban on removing sensory hairs will be fully in line with the FEI rule from 2022.

    Other key rule changes include the removal of the mandatory spurs requirement at advanced and above.

    Mr Brautigam gave a review of the 2021 national championships, which he said had “overwhelmingly positive feedback”, and what discussions are in the pipeline for future years.

    “While of course there is room for improvement – and we share members’ desire to have a better range of healthy food options, as well as a greater variety of tradestands – it must be understood that the context for this year’s championships was unique,” he said.

    He added that BD has heard members’ desire for livestreaming, but this “has to be balanced against the commercial viability of the show”.

    “It is not true to assert that this would not have an impact on footfall; other sports have the same commercial pressures on attendance at live events, as it inevitably cannibalises income,” he said, adding that BD will look at ways it could make it work, “but it will need to stack up financially”.

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