Carl Hester: Are we pricing riding out of reach? *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    The forthcoming royal nuptials remind us of how much horses are part of British life, with the Household Cavalry and the Windsor Greys playing leading roles in Windsor on 19 May.

    Our equestrian future, however, is at risk since last April’s sharp hike in rateable values severely impacted on riding schools, livery yards and other equestrian businesses. Good on the British Horse Society for their sterling work engaging with the chancellor of the exchequer and other powers-that-be, and for their vital survey. This hopefully will produce the information Phillip Hammond needs and will lead to a way out of this crisis.

    The rates crisis also has the capacity to price riding out of the reach of so many. At the recent British Dressage (BD) Winter Championships, the vaulting demonstrations caught my eye. Although you might think this has nothing to do with dressage, vaulting is a brilliant way of developing core stability and balance. I did vaulting in my teens!

    Our vaulting teams have enjoyed success — the Eccles sisters in particular — and watching some children as young as 10 or 11, arms out wide and sometimes two or three people up, having great fun, it struck me that some could consider vaulting as a cheaper option for getting involved with horses if the cost of a single lesson is prohibitive.

    Vaulting, where the cost is shared, might be a way to get children introduced to horses and the camaraderie is great. Check out your local options.

    Too many shows?

    I was thrilled when a pupil of mine recently reported a second place success. But then I had to ask, “Why the long face?” That there were only two in the class was the answer. We celebrated nevertheless, but several people I teach have questioned whether there are too many competitions in some counties, and the lack of significance in winning a class with so few competitors.

    It’s convenient for riders, but it can mean organisers struggle to find judges and there’s no prize money. It was a good change when BD made qualification for regionals percentage-based rather than win-based, and it is far more significant scoring a high percentage rather than winning due to poor entries.

    Fewer shows in some areas would mean fuller classes and more income to pay judges and prize money. By contrast some areas, such as the east of England, have lost a few venues. So is there a way of balancing out the number of competitions across the country?

    Overhorsing alert

    Don’t forget that those quiet three- and four-year-olds can have teenage years, generally at five or six. As those seemingly placid young horses begin to feel their strength and flex their muscles, their personalities can change dramatically.

    That photo on the internet of a rider clinging on as the horse gallops off into the distance with the caption “we thought we’d learn together” springs to mind.

    Ideally, amateur riders would learn from schoolmasters, leaving the more experienced to bring on youngsters. But my advice is to pick wisely, and know when overnight turnout will curb overenthusiasm, rather than overworking.

    Having watched two 18-year-old horses and a 19-year-old make light work of Badminton, I’d say there is much mileage to be had in an older generation of dressage horses.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 17 May 2018