Equestrian sport to resume in March: ‘an end is in sight’

  • The equestrian world is hopeful of a return to competition and training next month in line with the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans for the easing of coronavirus restrictions in England on Monday (22 February), starting with the return of schools, and changes to meeting people outside, on 8 March.

    A British Equestrian (BEF) spokesman said the Prime Minister’s roadmap “would indicate” that those equestrian centres and other businesses that are education or training providers could start one-to-one sessions from 8 March, while most other activity – sport or leisure – can resume from 29 March.

    He added that BEF member bodies are working on various “return to play” plans that are set to be released in the coming days with more details.

    The Government roadmap indicates that spectators may be able to return to sporting events, with restrictions, from 17 May.

    The situation is slightly different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Lockdown restrictions continue in Wales, with 12 March the next review date. In Northern Ireland, lockdown has been extended until 1 April, with a review on 18 March.

    Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the nation’s route out of lockdown yesterday (23 February).

    The BEF is working with Horsescotland and member bodies to establish what it means for the equestrian industry, but it looks as though activity could restart on 26 April.

    British Equestrian interim chief executive Iain Graham said: “While there is still detail to be clarified, we now have a strong indication from the Governments of England and Scotland of when we can return to activity, training, competing and just enjoying our equestrian lives once again. It’s very welcome news and gives hope to many that an end is in sight, provided of course we all play our part.

    “For our stakeholders in Wales and Northern Ireland, we’ll continue to push for the opening up of activity in a safe timeframe.

    “Thank you to all of you in the equestrian community, it’s been a difficult 11 months with so many impacted, but now we can look to building our industry back and recover stronger than ever.”

    A statement from British Eventing (BE) said it is finalising its sport resumption plans for all levels, with more information coming soon, and is continuing work on a pathway for elite athletes targeting Badminton, Kentucky and the Olympics.

    The statement added that BE has contacted athletes identified as elite to give them further details, and is planning the first “elite specific” training session at Aston-le-Walls (16-17 March) and the initial “elite specific” competition the following week (22-24 March).

    Entries will be strictly for these elite athletes and will be run “in strict accordance with Government regulations and Covid-19 protocols”.

    British Dressage (BD) is planning for its organised competition and training to resume in England on 29 March, with the possibility of competitors being allowed back to “stay away” shows from 12 April.

    It has suggested that spectators may be able to return, and travel to overseas competitions resume, from 17 May; with “all shows, training and regional camps” to resume “as normal” from 21 June, in line with any face mask or social distancing measures that may be in place.

    “This is the news we’ve been waiting for and, although we still have to wait a number of weeks before organised sport can begin again, we do now at least have some indicative dates to enable us to plan ahead more effectively,” said BD chief executive Jason Braugtigam.

    “While we do of course have to proceed with a degree of caution, these roadmaps do provide a clearer path for us to follow from April onwards.

    “The team at BD HQ is now finalising an operational plan for the resumption of activity, based on the various dates and options we had already prepared. It’s now a case of pulling everything together with our organisers and venues to produce an achievable programme of fixtures that will benefit all members, whatever their level, goals and aims are for the remainder of 2021. We hope to unveil this next week, so you can begin planning your campaigns for the season ahead, return to active training and start to get competition ready.”

    He added: “I’m proud of the resilience shown by the dressage community over the past year, particularly during these long winter months – and it now feels that, thanks to a great deal of patience and fortitude, we can finally see light at the end of the tunnel.

    “We all still have a part to play to help achieve each step or phase in the relaxation of restrictions, but we can all share in renewed optimism that it’s now only a matter of weeks until we return to some semblance of normality.”

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    Point-to-pointing is planning to restart in Britain on the week commencing 29 March, with an updated fixtures list expected by the end of this week.

    “This will still leave 11-12 weeks of the season,” said Point-to-Point Authority chief executive Peter Wright.

    “I know that many of you will be concerned about the going, but I note that one wet year in the last decade had fixtures with 100 runners in June. Furthermore, there are several courses out there which traditionally have good going late in the season.

    “In terms of the paying public and owners, the Government position is not totally clear. However, I am afraid that no-one other than participants will be able to attend up until April 12 at the least. We will open it up as soon as we can.”

    British Team Chasing is working with three event organisers on plans to run fixtures on three Sundays between 4-25 April inclusive. The National Team Chase Championship class will not take place this year.

    Preparations are also under way for fixtures later this year, with more information on both the spring and autumn 2021 seasons expected shortly.

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