Calls have been made for the Government to allow private lessons, with warnings over the effect closure will have on human and equine welfare. H&H speaks to campaigners, the British Horse Society and the Government, to find out more
British Horse Society Fellows Pammy Hutton and Tim Downes have started a petition to the Government and are encouraging yard owners to contact their MPs to argue for the ability to give one-to-one lessons.
Top rider and trainer Pammy has been campaigning on behalf of riding schools all year; lobbying Government to allow “indoor” arenas to be used last summer, and working for hours to help schools raise money to keep going.
In the current lockdown, Government guidance states that riding schools must close, but Pammy, who runs the Talland School of Equitation in Cirencester, and Mr Downes, of Ingestre Stables in Staffordshire, do not believe this should be the case.
“I’m fighting for us to be able to teach people on a one-to-one basis,” Pammy told H&H.
“I don’t believe lead-rein or beginner lessons should run but a one-to-one in a big arena is safe. Garden centres can open, so why can’t people come here, use hand sanitiser and tack that’s cleaned every time, and have a lesson that’s more Covid-safe than going to a supermarket?”
Pammy argued that not only will staying closed have a devastating effect on riding schools as businesses, it will also have a negative impact on the mental and physical health of riders.
Mr Downes agreed. He told H&H he is very concerned about the possible impact of riding schools’ closure on horse welfare.
During the last lockdown, many horses could be turned out, but now there are the increased costs of hay, food and bedding.
“Had this happened in summer, it would have been less catastrophic, but now there are yards full of horses, not enough people to exercise them and not enough money to feed them,” he said.
“You can still go to B&Q, and [children can] have private music lessons, and riding schools can open in Scotland, although I get that the virus isn’t spreading in the same way there. But there are so many things people can do that clearly aren’t as biosecure as a private riding lesson.”
British Horse Society CEO James Hick told H&H: “Riding schools are the lifeblood of the equestrian industry and this latest lockdown will cause immense difficulties for them. We have been lobbying Government throughout the pandemic, and will continue, working closely with officials to clarify the guidance along with providing support and information.
“It has been fantastic to see many people come together to create awareness of the issues riding schools are facing. We are pushing for riding schools to be able to reopen in line with students returning to school.
“Pammy Hutton and Tim Downes have highlighted how this is affecting riding schools and how, if we don’t work together, there will be horse welfare issues.
“The welfare of the horse is at the heart of everything the BHS delivers, and we continue to do everything we can to help support our approved riding schools through our hardship fund; we have provided nearly £800,000 of support and our public donations campaign continues.”
A Government spokesman told H&H: “We understand the challenges facing riding schools during these unprecedented times, but we have come to a critical juncture and must work together to get the rate of infection down.
“Staff who work at riding schools and people who keep their horses there can continue to visit to care for and exercise their horses. However, like other outdoor recreational spaces, riding schools must close to the public as we all stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.”
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