It does not seem possible that horse sport can avoid coming to a halt, despite the national federation’s best efforts, after a second lockdown was announced.
England is due to go back into the strictest lockdown measures on Thursday (5 November) until 2 December. MPs are due to vote on the details of prime minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of 31 October on Wednesday, but with Labour also backing the lockdown, it looks likely to be passed.
The Government guidance specifically states that “stables and riding centres” must close, and British Equestrian (BEF) interim chief executive Iain Graham told H&H he cannot see much hope for equestrian competition.
Today (2 November), before the BEF had had final government confirmation on what the lockdown means, he said: “I think there will be a fair bit of lobbying but I don’t see how we can avoid a shutdown for the sport.
“We’ll continue to explore all options to see if we can keep the sport running, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely.”
As H&H has previously reported, equestrian sport has been running since the summer under rules on the number of people allowed to meet to exercise, rather than those governing elite sport. This has meant that venues and riders are not subject to the requirements for elite sport, which would make competitions far less financially viable.
Mr Graham, who is also British Showjumping CEO, said he has been looking at ways jumping could potentially continue in the immediate future, as other sports such as football are.
“I’m looking at other options for us,” he said. “But if it’s going to be a short lockdown, it might be better to stop, then get ready to run again as soon as we can, and then everyone knows what to do with their horses.”
BS had postponed the amateur and veteran championships due to run at Aintree this week before the Government announcement, but Mr Graham is hoping the rescheduled Blue Chip winter championships may be able to go ahead at Hartpury from 28 December to 2 January, as announced last week. He added that as procedures have already been shown to work for socially distant sport, competition should be able to get running again as soon as this is allowed.
“I think [the Government] is going to try to do all they can to allow everyone to have Christmas,” he said. “I’m being cautious about the 2 December lockdown end date, because I can see that being extended by 10 to 14 days, then they’ll take the shackles off a bit for Christmas, and put them back on in January. So I’m hopeful Blue Chip can run on those dates over Christmas; if I were running a show, those are the dates I’d be looking at.”
All governing bodies were hoping to release discipline-specific guidance once the Government had confirmed what the lockdown means.
The Hunting Office contacted all packs on 1 November to say hunting activities should cease from the evening of 4 November.
“Hounds should be exercised from the kennels, but this should be done by hunt staff only (or a small number of regular volunteers to ensure the safety of hounds on exercise) and only for the purposes of the routine daily care of the hounds,” the statement read.
“Horses can continue to be exercised from the stables, but only as part of their routine daily care and maintenance of fitness.
“The prime minister has said that this lockdown will be lifted from 2 December providing infection rates drop. As soon as we know more about the restrictions which could be in place after this date, we will inform all hunts.
“We appreciate that this is a difficult time for everyone, however please make sure this guidance is followed, so we can resume activities as soon as possible.”
Hunting, and competition, had also ceased in Wales until 9 November for the “firebreak” lockdown in place there.
A British Horse Society spokesman said the organisation is working closely with the BEF and Sport England “to gain further clarity on the new national restrictions which will start on Thursday”.
“As soon as we are able, we will clarify what the lockdown means for our centres, coaches, British Riding Clubs and horse owners,” she said.
In Scotland, a new system of five levels has been introduced to manage the virus. As an outdoor non-contact sport, most equestrian activity can continue, including coaching.
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“Unfortunately, however, there are limitations for adult (over-18s’) competition as a result of the travel guidance to the general public,” a HorseScotland spokesman said.
“Without doubt, the main frustration comes from the travel restrictions implemented by the first minister. These have been introduced across the levelled system and impose travel limits to, from and within levels 0–4. We are fully aware that this will impact significantly on many equestrian businesses. The restrictions are uniform across all sporting activity, but with some exemptions for performance level athletes.”
The British Equine Veterinary Association told H&H it has advised members to minimise travel, and contact with others, risk-assess all procedures and use professional judgement on what action may be deferred. Members must act in a Covid-secure manner, but may carry out ambulatory and hospital work, and work in support of equestrian businesses and trade.
Defra was unavailable for comment but owners were allowed to care for their horses more than once a day, if necessary for their welfare, throughout the last lockdown.
For the latest on what lockdown means, visit our dedicated coronavirus hub page.
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