Equine welfare warning as virus restrictions hit riding schools hard *H&H Plus*

  • H&H speaks to industry experts to understand the impact the restrictions put in place to help combat the pandemic are having on equestrian businesses such as riding schools and livery yards

    There could be “catastrophic” equine welfare implications of the coronavirus pandemic, concerned stakeholders have warned. All businesses are affected by movement restrictions, but equestrian centres still have horses and ponies to care for, so staff cannot be furloughed.

    Tim Downes, who owns Ingestre Stables in Stafford and is a Fellow of the British Horse Society, told H&H Britain is “on the brink of a welfare catastrophe”.

    “The plight of British riding schools is that they still have their animals to cater for and with a total loss of income, equines and carers will suffer in what can only be described as the most devastating and unrecoverable issue since World War II,” he said.

    Mr Downes said the social impact on society of riding school closures – he has personally already heard of three closed owing to the pandemic – would be huge.

    He added: “Many riding school proprietors are in a state of total desperation. British riding schools are the backbone of equestrianism; without them the long-term effect of the current situation will ultimately be a serious decline in the standard of horse welfare.”

    British Horse Society (BHS) head of approved centres Oonagh Meyer said: “The BHS is working tirelessly to help support our approved centres through these incredibly challenging times, and we have been in direct contact with all of them to offer guidance and support.

    “We are also continually updating our online Covid-19 information hub, in line with government guidelines, to provide as much guidance and information as possible to all owners, coaches, yards, centres and schools. Advice and contact information can be found at bhs.org.uk/covid19.”

    Julie Magnus, of Julie Magnus Racehorse Transport, is also concerned that welfare issues are occurring at livery yards. She told H&H she has been contacted by owners of horses who have been turned away when this is detrimental to their health; owing to laminitis or recent surgery, for example.

    “I’ve had calls from terrified and distraught owners all over the country needing to move their horses immediately,” she said. “It’s a massive problem. I think some yards just panicked and shut up shop without thinking.”

    World Horse Welfare CEO Roly Owers told H&H the immediate outlook for the sector, including riding schools, is “hugely challenging”.

    “The government is under intense pressure so, while as a sector we need to be realistic about our chances of getting significant support, equally we need to reiterate to the government that the equine sector is the second-largest rural employer behind agriculture, and the benefits horses bring to the physical and mental health of society,” he said.

    “We also cannot forget that this is a public health emergency and we have all been given very clear direction on how to help win this battle, through following government recommendations including hand-washing and social distancing.

    “Collectively following these measures will minimise the time before a degree of normality returns and riding schools can start operating again. As a sector we should do all we can to weather this storm, support each other and provide maintenance care for our horses to reduce costs without compromising their welfare, so we can all get back on our feet when the restrictions start to lift.”

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