*New columnist* Geoff Billington: These are desperate times *H&H Plus*


  • Geoff Billington reflects on the consequences of a second lockdown, “confusion and lack of transparency”, remembering a friend and why he thinks he should appear on a certain TV programme

    This has been another really tough month for the equestrian industry as things have ground to a halt once again.

    Since the announcement came at the start of November that England was returning to lockdown, I have had to cancel all the clinics I had planned in the run-up to Christmas; at this time of year, they are my bread and butter. But I’m not alone – there are very many trainers and coaches in a similar position to me who have lost all their income. These are desperate times for a lot of people.

    The situation wasn’t helped by the confusion and lack of transparency surrounding the communication of how the new restrictions would affect equestrians – in particular for riding schools and on the issue of hiring out arenas. For a couple of days we all thought it was great and we’d be allowed to carry on, and the next minute they’d changed the goalposts.

    The final decision not to let us hire arenas is ridiculous. People are still able to teach one-on-one at home, but without any liveries that option isn’t open to me and I’ve effectively had to shut down until December.

    We’ve been breaking in a couple of youngsters at home and it would be nice to be able to take them out just for some experience – even just on a farm ride to get them out and about. But instead we’re left in limbo, sitting here twiddling our thumbs.

    Meanwhile racing continues at full pace – albeit behind closed doors – but I even saw that Newbury had thrown open its doors for some leading racehorses to enjoy a racecourse gallop last week.

    We’re all in a similar boat, trying to make a living out of horses, but the advantages that those in racing have been granted only serves to heighten how difficult this is for the rest of the equestrian world.

    But meanwhile I’m looking to fill up January with clinic bookings if anyone’s interested!

    An ambassador for the sport

    Time really flies, and it’s been two years since Tim Stockdale sadly passed away.

    Tim’s twin brother Ivan lives very close to me and keeps me informed with how his sons are doing, so I’m thrilled at how well the lads are getting on in their chosen sports – Joe is making a great go of it with the riding and is just heading off abroad for a couple of weeks; he’s even brought out a range of Team Stockdale clothing.

    Meanwhile, Mark is absolutely flying with the golf and it sounds as if he’s well on the way to becoming a top golfer. Both are showing the same great attributes that their dad showed and Joe is a great ambassador for the sport on social media.

    That was one of Tim’s greatest assets, too – when he started off, he wasn’t the best of riders, but he made himself into a brilliant rider and he was fantastic at promoting himself and the sport.

    Jellied eels and castle ruins

    For weeks I’ve been looking forward to watching this year’s I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! I’m always being told I should appear in the jungle – or ruined castle as it is this year (pictured, above) – and I reckon I could handle some of the challenges they face.

    Being stuck in an underground vault full of snakes wouldn’t bother me too much and I’d have mopped up everybody’s leftovers the night they all had eel to eat – I love jellied eel and nothing beats a bit of sushi; I’d be in my element!

    What’s more, you get paid a fortune and think of how many after-dinner speeches I’d be able to fill after a couple of weeks in there – we need to make it happen in 2021!

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 26 November 2020

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