The pressures of running a riding school in modern-day Britain and a property offer “too good to refuse” have led to plans to shut down one of Greater London’s premier teaching establishments and the country’s longest-running riding school under the same owners.
The closure of Suzanne’s Riding School in Harrow, which was founded in 1939 by a teenage Suzanne Marczak with two horses and two ponies, highlights the difficulties faced by all riding schools — even highly successful ones.
Julian Marczak — Suzanne’s son, chief instructor at the school and advisory chairman of the Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS) — explains: “It’s been an enormous decision, but riding schools are going through a tough time: overheads are increasing — especially through public liability insurance costs and business rates.
“The whole climate has changed: we haven’t had particular problems here [regarding compensation claims], but the public being encouraged to sue has had a bearing on insurance costs.
“It is also more and more difficult to find good, reliable, suitably qualified staff for general grooming and yard work. Colleges — which do fulfil an important role too — have played a part in reducing the number of working pupils.
“It’s worrying, because riding schools are a breeding ground for the riders of tomorrow. When you see them being assessed for tax on the same basis as, for instance, Homebase, and being charged varying inspection fees all over the country, you realise there’s a major job to be done lobbying government to recognise the financial problems facing them. The horse passports scheme, too, is a killer.”
These issues, plus a substantial offer from a building contractor for the entire 40-acre property, which is surrounded by the prosperous suburbs of north-west London, have led to the decision.
Around 15 of the school’s 55 horses and 28 ponies will relocate to Sussex with the Marczak family, which is to set up a dressage training and livery yard. Homes are being sought for the remaining animals. Suzanne’s Riding School closes on 28 March.