The industry could have a “unique” opportunity to sell itself to families keen for fresh air post-lockdown restrictions. H&H finds out more...
The equestrian world should “sell the sizzle, not just the sausage” as it markets itself to a post-lockdown Britain.
As many people who were forced to spend weeks indoors during coronavirus restrictions may re-evaluate their lives and how they spend leisure time when things return to normal, the equestrian industry could benefit.
Patrick Delaney, a lecturer at Hadlow College in Kent and former British Showjumping course-designer and British Horse Society (BHS) instructor, believes the industry will have a unique opportunity once it is in a position to accept beginners safely again.
“After months trapped in the family home, many people want a breath of fresh air and a change of environment,” he said. “And this change of environment is something rural – outdoor sports and activities are uniquely situated to be able to take advantage. Now is the time for the likes of the BHS, riding schools and trekking centres to be pushing their case.
“What is now needed from the equine industry is a concerted marketing effort and some creativity. We need to be selling the sizzle, not just the sausage, about what makes being around horses such a great lifestyle choice for the whole family.”
Mr Delaney told H&H our sport needs to promote its benefits to the public, and not only while social distancing is a requirement or a new normal.
“It’s outdoors, in the fresh air; there have been a lot of articles on the effects of young people’s mental health from being stuck at home. This is the perfect opportunity,” he said.
Mr Delaney pointed out that it is not just riding; while horse owners may not always look forward to the chores, this is also good, outdoor exercise.
“You’re not selling just ‘riding a horse’, it’s the outdoor lifestyle, the community, the animals, the fresh air, health and relaxation,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get people who may not have considered being around horses to do something different.
“The virus has changed people’s perceptions, and they’re maybe looking to do something new, and we should tap into that.”
A BHS spokesman told H&H the society “couldn’t agree more” with Mr Delaney on the potential opportunity.
“Our priority has been to help those people who ride to get back to riding, and we have been supporting our riding schools and coaches to enable this to happen, while following the Government guidelines,” she said.
“We have seen through our Changing Lives through Horses programme, aimed at young people who are at risk of exclusion or already excluded from school, how the horse has given them the confidence and the motivation to return to school and change the course of their lives.
“We plan to work with more centres and local authorities to enable us to offer the programme to even more young people.
“We are looking at a piece of marketing activity to engage with people outside the equine community. The campaign will focus on the horse, the health benefits of horse riding as well as the enjoyment it brings.”
Marketing consultant Paul Bentham, a former Robinsons Country Leisure sales and marketing director who sat on the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) council and retail committee for 13 years, cited cycling as an example of people turning to outdoor sport recently.
“About 1.3 million people – 5% of consumers – bought a bike since the outbreak; so there’s a precedent,” he said. “We’ve had a period of enforced imprisonment, for want of a better word, and there’s evidence to suggest that after a reduction in activity or capability, the will to do something finds a way.”
Mr Bentham said that other sports may also be thinking the same, and there will be competition for people’s leisure time, but “it’s an interesting notion that people might have the time and inclination to do something they wouldn’t otherwise have done”.
“I can see there is a germ of opportunity here for the sport. And I would expect anyone connected with the trade to agree that the more people riding, the better it is for everyone.”
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