H&H’s showjumping columnist reflects on lockdown confusion and resulting frustration
I spent most of last week wondering whether it would take longer to get clear guidance on the impact the new restrictions would have on the equestrian industry in England or for the USA to elect a new president. It was a closely fought race, with both seeming to take longer than they should. One finished with a sense of hope and prosperity, the other left a feeling of discombobulation.
When Boris Johnson made his announcement about lockdown 2.0, I was commentating at a show and played his speech live on the PA. Both riders and staff asked for the volume to be turned up. I’m hoping this was only due to the impending personal and business implications, and not because they preferred the PM’s voice to mine.
Online forums were instantly abuzz with speculation and conjecture. A holding statement from British Equestrian (BEF) stated they would provide an update when they had more information, but it became clear there would be nothing until after the parliamentary vote.
On the day of lockdown, we knew that amateur sport would stop. Venues in different parts of the country had welcomed confirmation from local authorities that arena hires could go ahead. This gave them a glimmer of financial hope. Then, 36 hours after lockdown commenced, the BEF released a statement that would firmly close the gates of equestrian venues for hires and clinics in England until 2 December.
Many were quick to condemn governing bodies for the decisions made and the delay in providing this guidance. Although there could have been better communication with stakeholders, this is probably unjust. The information they publish comes directly from guidelines provided by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Given how long it takes for sport to receive any advice, it would appear they seem to have a priority list based on their name.
After a lot of hard work behind the scenes to try to achieve both clarity and flexibility, there was a slight reprieve for riding schools but sadly this offered no comfort to event venues.
The BEF member bodies seem to prefer a fragmented approach. The British Horse Society published premature guidance, as they did during the March lockdown. Even after the BEF statement was released, the advice provided on their website remained contradictory on the ability for venues to hire arenas for days to come.
The amount of frustration and exasperation voiced by equestrians is overwhelming, but justified. These feelings aren’t fueled by selfishness but by uncertainty and sheer puzzlement, caused through the distinct lack of a common sense approach.
The first lockdown was much more clear-cut and transparent. We were all doing our part to control a virus and there was a sense of community. This time around, I’m not sure the same is true. Yes, we need to do our part to protect the NHS, but it feels like the national plan was scratched together on a beer mat.
I love a nice suit and the good news is the “essential” dry cleaners are allowed to stay open. They can also iron my shirts (a skill I’ll never possess) and do any alterations, but tailors must close. While sitting in traffic during the school run, I noticed that the large chain stationers and newsagents are open. Poundland and Home Bargains will be there with a full selection of non-essential items (plus some food). However, if you want to take your horse to an expansive arena on your own then you’ll be out of luck, due to non-essential travel.
It’s questionable if there will be proportionate financial support available for equestrian businesses. I know of one multi-ring venue that received just £1,300 a month during the first lockdown. The overheads don’t stop and as many will know, this amount won’t cover much.
Covid-19 is likely to be endemic. We need to learn to live with it in a fair way that wont cripple certain industries. Sport provides exercise, a positive distraction and a way to achieve this in a secure way. We are an industry that needs to unite and open better channels of communication.
As a throwback to another confusing time in politics, we really are better together.
Do you agree with Adam? Have you been affected by the restrictions imposed by the latest lockdown? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Ref Horse & Hound; 12 November 2020