Lockdown means my family’s riding school has already taken a huge hit financially. And as I write, we’re waiting to hear if we have secured a substantial six-figure loan from the bank to stay afloat during the predicted prolonged shutdown and time to restart.
But something upsets me even more. Coronavirus has put the lives of 40 wonderful school horses here at Talland in jeopardy. We love them dearly, but they are also worth £1m.
Also keeping me awake at night is potentially losing our ability to train students for equestrian careers, to inspire people of all ages to enjoy riding and to hone the talents of Olympic riders to come.
I’ve tried to bite my lower lip and be brave. But a residential student’s naive words following a ridden session on our school horses finally made me crumple. “I can’t think of a better place in the world to be locked in,” she said with a big, innocent smile.
We’re all supposed to be in this together… but are we? Once again in a crisis, the horse world finds itself confused by mixed messages.
Are we allowed to ride? The latest British Equestrian Federation advice is that we’re “strongly advised not to” – but then again it might be all right on your own property if you avoid “heightened risk”. Which means what exactly?
Scanning various riding centres’ communication to their clients post lockdown, some were “stopping altogether” while others were offering “shared lessons with big distances between participants”. Even within the societies, the recommendations are confusing.
Meanwhile, worldwide racing seems to have its ducks in a row, with racehorses being exercised and the industry unified in its advice and actions.
As I write, riding continues in most European countries. In Italy, I’ve just lost a close friend to coronavirus – so know my thoughts are not without heartfelt feelings for the human condition in these dire times.
Talland is just one BHS-approved establishment facing a dilemma over what to do with its school horses while they are unemployed, but costing us money. Shame we can’t furlough them…
Of our 95 horses, we have turned out 50 and put down five. Live-in students and staff are lightly working our 40 precious, experienced school horses – and this is why. If they’re turned out in groups, they will be injured or lame in days. Lungeing can equally be detrimental to their joints. Walking in-hand is dangerous. If they stand in stables, they will deteriorate.
Low-risk, controlled exercise – as the government urges for people – is what they need. That, with appropriate veterinary back-up, is what I’ve begged the powers-that-be to recommend.
Tim Downes FBHS, who’s been a saviour in helping me pick through the red tape, is co-owner with Rob Lovett FBHS of Ingestre Stables in Stafford, where their wonderful schoolmasters are likewise in light work under their residential riders.
“They [the school horses] are our most valuable asset, the core of our business,” Tim says. “Without those horses, once we come out the other end of this awful situation, training at the higher levels will be extremely slow to get going again. We must ensure it doesn’t reduce even more.”
Another grey area is teaching via computer/telephone links. “Not recommended” is the official line from the BHS. Put that last nail in our coffins now!
Routine is key to all horses’ care, while laminitis (from too much grass) and colic (from inactivity) are constant concerns. Everyone agrees on that.
So, in the midst of this crisis, why can’t we have agreement over how to safeguard the future of riding in Britain?
At times like this, people who “do something” are the stars. And none more so than TV presenter Jenny Rudall and event rider and commentator Spencer Sturmey.
Their “Save Talland’s Horses” fundraiser raffle aims to create a template for other riding schools to follow. The idea has already been copied in the USA, raised money for other British riding schools, and we’re hoping it will roll out nationwide.
I’ve been brought to tears by how generously it’s been supported. Check it out on Talland’s Facebook page; for a £10 donation, you could win a private Jonty Evans and Art demo for you and your friends, meet Valegro at Carl Hester’s yard, course walks, lessons and yard tours with the stars, tickets to next year’s big events, side-saddle lessons, luxury gift vouchers – even a loo roll, or a free lesson with me!
Now I’m off to show my bank manager some love…
Ref Horse & Hound; 9 April 2020