Questions raised over government’s decision to ban use of indoor schools *H&H Plus*

  • Calls have been made for indoor schools, which are not sealed structures, to be treated in a different way to other ‘indoor leisure venues’. H&H asks the government why equestrian centres are being impacted while many shops have been allowed to reopen...

    Equestrian centre owners have questioned the consistency of government advice as non-essential shops have re-opened – while indoor arenas may not be used.

    H&H reported on 4 June that, as confirmed by the Government Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and adhering to guidelines stating that only outdoor exercise was allowed, indoor arenas cannot be used.

    As part of more recent easing of lockdown measures, shops including those selling toys, clothes, books and electronics were allowed to open in England from 15 June, but indoor schools were not.

    Kathryn Waugh, manager of Firtree Farm Riding School in Newcastle, is among those who only have an indoor surface.

    “Our indoor is about 26x42m and it’s very, very airy,” she told H&H.

    “There’s a big gap at either end, so you can get access with a tractor, and it’s got Yorkshire boarding with gaps so the air flows through, all down one side. The wall sheets don’t go right to the ground, to keep it cool in summer, so the ventilation is very good.

    “It feels like – I won’t say double standards because I don’t think that’s fair – that there’s not been enough consideration for what we do.”

    Ms Waugh cited the fact riding comes under leisure pursuits in the Government guidelines, which she agreed makes sense in part.

    “But our spaces are generally so well ventilated, and I feel it’s very hard to compare us to air-conditioned gyms,” she said. “It’s much harder to keep people socially distant in a gym or shop and it’s very hard for us to tell clients we can’t open when they want us to, and other centres can.”

    Ms Waugh praised the leadership of the likes of the British Horse Society and said she understands the difficulty of setting guidelines that suit all industries.

    “The equestrian world is a world of its own and doesn’t really compare to gyms, but we’ve been put in the same pot,” she said. “That’s making it very hard for us to open and be viable.

    “It’s a lot easier to stay safe here than it is shopping – I know, I’ve done both.”

    Top dressage rider and trainer, and H&H columnist, Pammy Hutton, is concerned the ban on indoor arenas could prove fatal to riding schools that are already struggling.

    “The problem is in the word ‘indoor’,” she told H&H. “It’s not like an indoor swimming pool; the key has to be the ventilation.”

    Pammy added that she has pictures of her own indoor arena with snow on the surface, where it had blown in through gaps in the walls.

    “If you can get three inches of snow somewhere, it’s not indoors,” she said. “The key should be whether it’s sealed or not.

    “We need to preserve our riding schools. We alone have lost £30,000 per month over lockdown – that’s the reality.”

    A DCMS spokesman told H&H “indoor leisure venues” are in phase three of the prime minister’s post-lockdown “road map”, so their reopening will be considered from early July.

    Asked about the perceived inconsistencies with shops reopening, she did not respond.

    Secretary of state Oliver Dowden said: “I know countless people are itching to get back to their gyms and leisure centres, to their five-a-side leagues and all their other normal fitness activities.

    “We’re working closely with the sector to get grassroots and community sport back up and running as soon as it is safe to do so, with an aim of the start of July at the very earliest.”

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