Nina Barbour: ‘The industry needs to act fast in order to get ahead’


  • Nina Barbour, the former three-star event rider turned showjumper and organiser of international events at Bolesworth, shares her thoughts on perception and social licence in a fast-changing world

    Since 2020, life has been a rollercoaster in lots of ways for many people in our industry. Covid, Brexit, devastating war, climate change and recession all lead to an underlying feeling of losing control of our destiny in multiple ways.

    The halo effect of Covid support created a false sense of security, and in the past 12 months, reality has hit. The inevitable recession has also landed, affecting costs across the board.

    I don’t think that many people realised how affected the equestrian world in the UK would be by Brexit. We all thought that deals would be done and we would quickly return to a pre- Brexit world, where horse movement between the UK, Ireland and France would once again be cheap and easy.

    This just hasn’t happened and we are seeing more outward migration of top professionals to Europe than there has ever been before.

    On a positive note, we are delighted at the uptake for our first two-week international tour at Bolesworth kicking off today (Thursday 6 June). We are looking forward to welcoming so many Olympic-focused combinations, including notably the UAE team supported by our partners Al Shira’aa, and helped to success by trainers Will Funnell and Duncan Inglis.

    It has been fantastic to be so close to their journey over the past few years, resulting in the huge achievement of qualifying for the Paris Olympics this year. It is so encouraging to see these results after years of hard work and investment from HH Sheikha Fatima Bint Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and her team.

    “Battle to survive”

    One of the core values that we at Bolesworth share with Al Shira’aa is love of the horse. We live in a world where there is a rising movement of unrest around the social licence to ride horses. Let’s be clear, this isn’t about whipping them or using spurs – this is a movement that believes that we shouldn’t be riding them at all.

    Hunting ultimately failed in a battle to survive despite being a tradition that contributed significantly to local economies up and down the country – why? A certain amount of arrogance that just didn’t believe that the institution could be brought down, pitched against a gritty and well-thought-out campaign by the opposition to bring it down.

    We have to be ahead of the game and take a step back for a moment. In 20 years’ time, will whips be acceptable? Maybe we need to start imagining this world and what needs adapting now to take fuel out of the argument.

    We all know that the majority of performance horses are treated like superstars. However, that argument doesn’t wash when it is undermined to the nth degree – when images of a racehorse trainer sitting on a dead horse or videos of a horse being rapped to jump higher are exposed because a small minority don’t share the same values as the rest of us.

    The industry needs to act fast in order to get ahead, especially at a time when riding is probably less accessible than ever before to the general population, with so many riding schools being forced to shut due to rising costs and compliance.

    That being said, we are looking forward to a celebration of our sport at Bolesworth and can’t wait to welcome riders, owners, partners and spectators. We would like to wish all the combinations in every equestrian discipline the very best of luck in their campaign for success in Paris.

    ● Do you agree with Nina? How does the sport need to adapt? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and country, for the chance for your letter to appear in a forthcoming issue of the magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 6 June

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