Centres speak out on impact of indoor arena restrictions *H&H Plus*

  • The Government’s refusal to allow indoor riding arenas to fully re-open under the latest restrictions took many in the industry by surprise. H&H finds out what effect this decision is having

    “WE will not let this rest” is the position of the industry as the Government has refused to allow indoor arenas to fully re-open.

    British Equestrian (BEF), the British Horse Society, Pony Club and the Olympic disciplines had led a campaign for clarification on the most recent legislation.

    “Our previous agreement with Government that equestrian indoor venues would be classified as outdoors due to their agricultural and airy nature no longer applies,” a BEF spokesman said, adding that the classification of “indoor” is now determined by Defra’s smoke-free legislation.

    It was originally thought the exemption for under-18s would allow junior shows to run indoors but it was clarified that this is limited to 15 participants.

    Sue Walker, who owns the indoor-only Duckhurst Farm in Kent, told H&H the centre’s show season normally finishes in April.

    “We’ve lost nearly the whole season,” she said. “From the start of September we’ve run maybe a month in total; it’s unreal.

    “It’s impossible, and it’s the not knowing what we can do, and the lack of logic. I’m not blaming anyone, and you can’t govern what’s going on in a pandemic, but have a plan and stick to it. When you see the number of people in parks, how on earth can you say a show that’s carefully organised to be safe can’t operate?”

    Ms Walker had a calendar full of  hire bookings, and a huge number of entries for shows she had thought, based on previous legislation, could run.

    “I now have to spend hours going through and refunding,” she said. “This year’s been a wipe-out; it’s the same for so many others but it’s mind-blowingly difficult.”

    Abigail Turnbull, director of Richmond Equestrian Centre in North Yorkshire, had hoped to restart indoor adult lessons.

    “To me, if there’s five riders and a coach, it doesn’t matter if they’re adults or children,” she told H&H.

    Mrs Turnbull could not see the logic of the decision.

    “It’s so frustrating; a lot of centres only have indoors so can’t open until 17 May; that’s a huge amount of income lost,” she said. “Everyone respects the virus but it’s getting stupid; centres have worked so hard with no income, and they’re still being penalised. I’m almost thinking, ‘Are riding schools still financially viable?’ It would be a great shame to the sport to lose them.”

    The BEF said it will “continue to make the strong case for the use of indoor arenas”, which has the support of some MPs, Whitehall staff and Sport England.

    “With the support of the British Horse Council, we will not let this situation rest.”

    BEF CEO Iain Graham added that the aim is to get indoors fully open “within the Government’s stage two timeframe, which we hope will be 12 April”.

    H&H asked the Government for comment on the change to indoor classification and the fact it was released so late. A Defra spokesman clarified the current rules.

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