Ideas needed in race to recruit new riders

  • After a stupendous 2012 Olympics, horse sport learned in December it would receive up to 6m funding for development. So what plans have been made and are they working?

    Equestrianism is one of 46 sports to receive major investment from Sport England — £6million for the four-year cycle 2013-17. This is an increase of 46% from the previous Olympiad and is to be spent on grass roots and talent development.

    The British Equestrian Federation (BEF) — which will dispense the money — has been allocated £1,476,454 for the first 12 months.

    But Andrew Finding of the BEF says the increased funding comes with “heavy obligations”.

    The organisation must increase the number of those who ride — or drive or vault — by 3,500 in the first year and by 25,000 in four years, or lose a chunk of the cash.

    “If we succeed, we may be awarded more funding support; if we don’t, our funding may be reduced by up to 20%,” said Mr Finding.

    The BEF has so far launched three main initiatives within its Hoof programme (www.hoof-ride.co.uk) to attract new riders.

    It has started a “Take Back the Reins” campaign to appeal to lapsed riders and offered training to the 70 riding schools so far involved. This proved popular with the riding schools canvassed by H&H.

    Last week, an online “Trot to be trim” campaign was launched promoting the health benefits of riding.

    The BEF also backs the Take Up the Reins initiative, run by the British Equestrian TradeAssociation (BETA). As part of the scheme, BETA has been taking three life-sized mechanical horses around the UK for people to try riding.

    The scheme has been rolled out at 26 events from May to December 2012, including Royal Norfolk Show, John Lewis department stores and the Great North Run.

    But riding schools canvassed by H&H felt Hoof, launched in 2009 and involving business-to-business networking, besides ‘how to start in the sport’ website information — was almost completely unheard of by new clients.

    In line with Sport England’s mantra “grow, sustain and excel”, the aim is to attract more new riders, hold on to existing ones and to invest money into talent programmes.

    Most riding centres H&H spoke to said they would have the capacity for more riders, but riding schools can also apply to Hoof for funding to improve facilities.

    Some of the funding can be spent on advertising in mainstream media, though the BEF told H&H it was considering how sustainable this is.

    Offering free or discounted lessons is not permitted under the rules laid down by Sport England. “We won’t subsidise riding lessons or entry fees, but we will invest in more efforts to co-ordinate activity, more communication and more promotion,” said Mr Finding.

    This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (7 March 2013)

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