A coach whose riding school licence has expired after “obstructive” behaviour from the council has made official complaints – including over sexual comments she says were made by one of the licensing officers.
Victoria Baker told H&H that Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council has lost her documents and made repeated “ridiculous” requests for additional information since her inspection on 13 February. Her licence expired at the end of that month.
“It’s an absolute nightmare,” she said.
Victoria’s is not a traditional riding school set-up; she has five horses and usually teaches one rider at a time, mainly those preparing for their British Horse Society exams.
Her previous two inspections, with a different inspector to the two who arrived this time, had been uneventful, with no issues raised. On this occasion, as before, the veterinary inspector signed a form to confirm that all documents required by the council were complete.
“But they keep asking for more and more,” Victoria said. “For example, you have to submit lists of procedures. For mucking out, I said I muck out fully, then skip out throughout the day when they’re in. They said they wanted more detail. I said ‘So you want 1) open door, 2) get horse out, and she said ‘Yes please’. So I had to put open door, remove horse, lift solids, scrape shavings back – literally a 10-point list of how to muck out’. It’s laughable, but to the point I could nearly cry.”
Victoria said the officers found fault with her feeding plan, despite the fact she has spreadsheets stating that she feeds each horse 2.5% of its bodyweight as per British Horse Society guidelines, and that this is split into 90% bulk and 10% concentrates. She told H&H they also found fault with procedures including the protocol to be followed in the event of a fire.
“They don’t know one end of a horse from the other,” Victoria said. “One asked me if I did my own clipping, and why it looked like the horse was wearing thigh-length boots. I said it was a hunter clip.”
Victoria said the inspectors told her documents she had previously submitted were lost; she offered to show them the items on her laptop but was told to email.
“One of the officers said ‘All the pretty ones have been getting away with murder’ with the previous [male] inspector. You can’t say that to people in this day and age.”
Victoria’s licence expired on 28 February and she has been in touch with the council throughout. But she said replies are taking a long time to arrive, and when they do, they are not helpful.
“I do also teach people on their own horses but if this was my entire business, I’d be snookered,” she said. “I’ve sent two horses to be sold as a result of this but I’m getting nothing back from the council really, they’re being obstructive.”
Victoria has consulted a solicitor, who planned to contact the council, and is looking into her insurance, which covers licensing disputes. She has also contacted her local borough councillor and has been advised to take the matter up with the local government ombudsman.
“But it’s all time lost,” she said. “These inspectors need to be regional, not for each council, and they need to be people who know what they’re talking about.”
A spokesman for Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council told H&H: “A renewal application for a licence to hire out horses from Victoria Baker BHSI Coaching has been received and is being processed by the council.
“We have been working with Ms Baker over a number of weeks to gather the necessary information to process the application and grant a licence.
“We are following animal welfare legislation and Defra statutory guidance for local authorities and hope to have the required documents to complete the process soon.”
The council said it had written to Victoria in reply to points she has raised.
You might also be interested in:
Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.