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‘I can’t bear to think of closing’: riding school’s £15,000 monthly costs with no income highlights lockdown reality

An appeal for help in meeting monthly costs of £15,000 has highlighted the reality faced by riding schools in the third lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic.

Barnfield Riding School, Kingston upon Thames, put out an urgent request for support on its social media this week.

Like its counterparts across the country, Barnfield has no income while the costs of looking after its horses continue.

Owner Patsyanne Rose told H&H there has been a huge reaction to the post.

“There were lots of people giving me advice on how I should run my yard!” she said. “It really ruffled a few feathers, and I was upset by some of the comments, but also my phone didn’t stop ringing yesterday, with people saying ‘What can we do to help?’

“Like any post, it had mixed reactions, but on the whole, I think, it raised awareness of what’s going on.”

Some people had commented to asked why Patsy had not taken advantage of the Government’s furlough scheme but as the horses still need to be cared for, it has been impossible to reduce staff hours. She explained that the turnout she had rented for years was sold last spring, and as she is in outer London, there is not much land to go round.

“So I can’t turn them out, which means I need all my staff,” she said. “Everything else is exactly the same, except there’s no clients.

“All the horses get exercised twice a day; I haven’t had a day off since March, and I’m absolutely knackered. This is the reality of what’s going on.”

Patsy said all the horses are hand-grazed and happy, and she hopes in future to be able to rent other nearby land from the council for turnout.

Like other schools, Barnfield was able to give some lessons last summer when restrictions were eased, but it is also a Riding for the Disabled Association centre, with 60 disabled riders a week before the pandemic hit. That side of the business was not able to restart as it was not possible to run the sessions in a socially distant way owing to the clients’ needs.

“We probably only reclaimed about 40% of our business when we could open,” Patsy said. “And the costs are massive.”

Patsy has previously appealed for support locally, adding that the community “rallied round” and that she is very grateful for their support.

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“But I’m not quite sure what to do now,” she said.

“The real problem is not knowing where the end is. If we knew we were going to be closed for four weeks, we’d know what the cost would be, but we don’t know. We don’t know how long it will take to get back to where we were.

“I can’t bear to think that we might close. I’m trying so hard to be positive but I go home at night and think ‘What the hell am I going to do?’ And I can’t answer that.”

Patsy said she bought the riding school when it was “on the brink of closure”, and has since paid off all the debts, and made it thrive, by “putting my heart and soul into it”, but that the “pots will run dry” at some point.

“There will have to come a point where I say ‘hang on a minute, I can’t save it’, and that’s heartbreaking,” she said.

“I don’t want to be doom and gloom but it is very, very tough.”

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