Inspirational equestrians think outside the box during lockdown *H&H Plus*

  • As we await the government’s plans to start lifting the lockdown measures, H&H highlights just some of the inspirational individuals and businesses that have been using creative thinking to make the most of this difficult period...

    The equestrian community has adapted to lockdown restrictions with “out of the box” thinking, shining a positive light during challenging times.

    With the help of technology and creative thinking, some businesses and individuals have been able to keep operating through the coronavirus pandemic, while supporting each other.

    Patrick Pollock, director of the equine hospital and practice at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, told H&H that despite restrictions and reduced staff, this has been the hospital’s “finest hour”.

    “We’re working hard to make sure we use the minimum of everything. We’ve had medics ring us to say they can’t get a certain drug or consumable and we’ve been able to source it for them through our veterinary supply chain,” he said.

    “We’ve given away a lot our gowns, masks and ventilators to local NHS hospitals, but there’s a real ‘spirit of the Blitz’ camaraderie and we’re all working together. Animal welfare has been at the forefront of everything – as well as human welfare.”

    Mr Pollock said when a horse arrives at the hospital for treatment it is unloaded into a stable and there is no direct contact with owners; all communication takes place electronically.

    “We’ve been able to support vets and clients using our telemedicine platform so we can do a live consult and make the decision on whether a horse needs to come in. We’re also providing a telemedicine service to owners in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland,” he said.

    “I hope some positives can come at the end of this, which might be that we will have developed these platforms across the UK so no one goes without that level of veterinary support; you should get the same level of specialist support whether you’re on the Isle of Lewis or in Basingstoke. I think we’ll get there because people will be more enthusiastic about using technology.”

    British Showjumping accredited coach Ernest Dillon, who has created seven training videos for sale, including polework and exercises for improving canter, told H&H lockdown restrictions had been “incredibly difficult”– but said the equestrian community is adapting “like it always does”.

    “I can’t get to my clients the way I should be able to, so they need something else,” he said. “I’m also doing Zoom lessons, with clients as far away as the US having weekly lessons.

    “Horse people are a tough bunch, and if anyone is going to make it through this, it will be horse people.”

    Aberdeen Riding Club has set up an equine professional support group using video conferencing. The group comprises physiotherapists, coaches, centre proprietors, farriers and vets, and each week holds online sessions to aid with professional development with someone from a different occupation presenting a talk each week.

    Club manager Sally McCarthy told H&H: “The equestrian world is very good at adapting but the problem has been it hasn’t always been as good at adapting digitally, which is where we have to look in the short term, and potentially longer term for changes that might occur over the next year.

    “The group has been a really positive step – it allows us all to throw ideas about, but almost more importantly, it’s given everyone a support network. It’s really good to be able to chat with other professionals who are all in the same boat.”

    World Horse Welfare’s Hall Farm, which is closed to the public, has used the lockdown to catch up on yard and field maintenance.

    “Everyone has pulled together. People have different situations at home where perhaps they can’t see the people they’re used to seeing, so we try to keep everyone’s spirits up,” assistant farm manager Lizzie Bird told H&H. “Coming to work is bit of time-out for some people.

    “One of the toughest parts has been not having the potential rehomers visit so we’ve been keeping in contact with them by sending photos of the horses to keep them updated.”

    West London-based Deen City Farm, an inner-city charitable riding school, has been diversifying by creating and selling colouring and sticker books – based on the centre’s horses and ponies – to provide income and “educational fun”. Riding school manager Joanna Henbrey has also written a children’s story book, Derek Goes For A Walk, based on one of the farm’s ducks.

    “The lockdown has been difficult, there is only so much you can do – but I never in a million years would have written a children’s book if it wasn’t for this so it has pushed people to think outside of the box, and that’s always good,” said Ms Henbrey.

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