Crunching the numbers during lockdown: how people in the industry are coping *H&H Plus*

  • The Covid-19 pandemic is affecting everyone’s lives, and those in the equestrian world are no exception. While the full economic impact is unknown, H&H speaks to four people from different corners of the horse community to find out how they have been hit and where they are able to manage their costs

    Charlotte Coker-Brown (riding school)

    We are in Torbay in South Devon; we have 11 ponies and set up in 2015, before moving to a new base the following year. The riding school is very much centred around having fun; we’re a Pony Club centre and geared towards the children who can’t afford their own ponies. They love it and spend their days here, we just have good old horsey fun.

    Two years later we had some serious snow damage, where the roof of the indoor school fell in from the weight of the snow. That was a really tough year – we moved again at short notice to where we are now and had a long battle to get the change of use on the premises. We finally opened again in December 2018 after nine months of being out of action.

    Things were then going great, we made enough money to resurface the outdoor arena, which really needed doing, and then suddenly we are here. I’m never going to be wealthy from doing this, however we just about break even.

    Money-wise we will hopefully be able to keep going and re-open, but it depends how long this goes on for. Due to a business rates mix-up, we aren’t eligible for the government business grant, but I’m writing and hoping as it would make all the difference. I’m director of the company, so I am eligible for the government support that gives 80% of my salary, so that is something to keep us going. My husband has been furloughed and between us we are keeping spending to a minimum, and the money we did earn we are keeping going how we can.

    The ponies are now living out, which suits them fine. They are native types so don’t need a great deal of grazing.

    My costs are OK. When the ponies come in they have hay and I was keen to get the bedding costs down quickly – having 11 ponies in at night was a big cost. We pay £30/bale for hay and £50/bale for straw.

    In the winter we were getting through six bales of hay and one of straw a week, which works out at £230 – thank goodness we can turn the ponies out now.

    As far as the day-to-day running of the yard goes, my two children are up here helping and getting stuck in. We are lucky to be here, we might not have an income, but we are having fun as a family at the moment.

    It is pretty tough. The advice has been quite generic and when you look into the specifics, it filters you out quite quickly if you don’t meet that one bit of criteria. We just hope we can get going again in the not too distant future.

    Neville Ender (family-run racing yard)

    We have our own yard in Malton – my daughter Sara holds the permit, and the horses are all mainly owned by myself or jointly with her.

    The yard has always been family-run, with my daughter, my wife and me. We have someone who normally comes in to ride two or three lots in the morning – we hope they will come back when this is over. We don’t have any rent to pay, but we have 16 horses in. Some of those are retired or not in work, so we had seven in training right up until racing was put on hold on 17 March.

    It still costs the same to keep them whether racing is on and money is coming in or not. It costs me £150 per week for each horse. The horses are out in the day and coming in every evening as the grass hasn’t really started growing yet – there is the dangling carrot of National Hunt racing resuming on 1 July. The horses are fit and ready to run, but you can’t keep racehorses fit with nowhere to run. It is costing a grand a week and there is no certainty there will be anything at the end of it.

    It costs £22/week in bedding for each horse as we always use the best quality shavings we can; £45/bale of haylage – we get through one of those a week, which works out at £6/horse; the farrier still needs to come every four weeks, they still need worming, their supplements, the horsebox still needs maintaining.

    We are a small yard and summer jumping is a really important part of our business. We’ve got the best pool of horses we’ve had.

    We are in limbo – even if we were told “no racing until the end of the year”, that would give a date to work with. It’s difficult, but it is difficult for a lot of people and it’s important the pandemic is under control first.

    Sarah Skillin (self-employed)

    My costs have gone down because all of my horses – two of my own and four liveries – are now out all the time. That would happen normally anyway, but we have turned them out three and a half weeks earlier than usual. However, that’s not down to the pandemic, that’s down to the weather. My winter fields went from being sodden to concrete in 24 hours. It got cheaper because I’m not feeding multiple bales of hay a day and the hard feed is reduced.

    Pandemic-related cost reductions include things such as my chiropractor and the physio, who does the horses and I, plus the horses haven’t had their six-monthly vaccinations. I have not renewed my British Dressage membership and I’m not paying to compete. I’m not putting the fuel in the quad bike to level the arena as often.

    I’ve also taken the business use insurance off my horsebox temporarily, which has saved me the best part of £300. Its MOT was also due, but there’s an extension on that, so at the moment there’s somewhere between £250 to £1,000 I would have needed to pay that I haven’t spent.

    I’m self-employed and also run a business, so I fall in between a lot of support cracks. I did have a 24-hour minor panic when I looked at all of my costs wondering what I was going to do if all my work dried up, because all my work is connected to the equestrian world. On the whole I’ve been really busy – nobody knows what is going to happen, so I haven’t spent money unnecessarily. For example, I had my fields harrowed and rolled, but didn’t spend the extra £200 on spraying as they don’t need it.

    However, I am lucky in that all my work is in marketing and communications, which is one of the things companies really need at the moment so they can ensure their business is still there when we come out of this. Competition has stopped, but the equestrian world hasn’t.

    Carla Brimble (student)

    I’m in my first year at Bedfordshire University studying social work, although uni is closed at the moment. I balance that with a part-time job in a petrol station – normally I work 20 hours a week, but that’s been cut down to 12 in the last month, which has affected how much money I have to spend on my horses.

    I’ve had Frank almost exactly a year now. He’s a 15.1hh heavyweight cob and we were just getting ready for the competition season. We tend to hack out mostly and will do some schooling alongside that.

    There are usually shows at the yard (Warehill Equestrian Centre), although that is on hold for now, and that was one of the reasons we first moved him here – it helps keep my competing costs down, too. It’s a really nice yard and the people who run it are really supportive, helping us out where they can. My mum helps me and we’ve managed it so Frank can live out, although that did involve a new battery and energiser, which I was able to go halves on with my sister, whose horse is in the same field. He doesn’t need much hard feed, he’s on a low calorie/high fibre feed.

    The shop I normally buy it from is 45 minutes away, where it is about half the price of the one that’s only 10 minutes from me. By avoiding that extra travel, that’s adding about £10 to my feed bill each time.

    My livery bill comes to £170/month – even though he’s now living out. I did pick up some shavings so I can make up a bed for him if needed in an emergency. The place I buy those from was out of the basic shavings, so I had to buy premium ones at £12 each.

    He had been barefoot for the first 11 years of his life, but the change from the ground being really wet to very dry also affected his feet, so we called the farrier and he’s put front shoes on him. I’ve also had to buy care products for his feet and supplements to ensure he’s healthy.

    The pandemic has had an impact, but there’s always ways to make it work, it’s just thinking and finding what those ways are.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 14 May 2020