Pammy Hutton: The pandemic has put us in survival mode *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s dressage columnist reflects on being productive during lockdown and what she has learnt along the way...

    So here we are in a haze of disinfectant and hand sanitiser, clad in plastic gloves, face coverings at the ready, teaching people to ride.

    I’ve always been a proficient shouter, but social distancing has tested even my vocal volume. And as for touching anything, barge poles come to mind…

    Horsey people are habitually good about washing their hands the moment they come indoors. But the new requirements have taken personal hygiene to new levels that are time consuming, frustrating and tiring. Which item comes off first – and where does one put it? Working it out has filled me with admiration for those health professionals who’ve worked under much stronger precautions for weeks.

    From a practical point of view, unlocking was always going to be more stressful than lockdown. Indeed, would people want to come riding? Fortunately, yes, they do – desperately. And that alone has filled me with joy.

    Silver linings

    Being confined to barracks wasn’t all bad. Amid the doom and financial gloom, I discovered many advantages.

    There was time to ride four horses a day, no one made off with my hat, whip or spurs, and the piaffe my eight-year-old has developed was nearly worth lockdown on its own!

    Thankfully, the nonsense about “to ride or not to ride” – a phrase first coined by Danny Anholt FBHS – gave way to people doing what’s appropriate for them. When I’m watching Ski Sunday, I don’t turn to husband Brian and announce: “Evening flight, please, I’m going down a mountain on two planks tomorrow!”

    On a personal level, it’s been fantastic to have time to appreciate my garden, cook better, read more and focus on the book I’m writing with Islay Auty FBHS. And on the work front, I’ve mastered teaching online and using Zoom – I even discovered a soft-focus button.

    Talland’s infrastructure has benefitted, too. The indoor school has clean skylights, walls and jumps are freshly painted, and the “it might come in handy” rubbish has been sorted out.

    A big motivation was our friendly, but deadly serious, rivalry with counterparts at Ingestre Stables in Staffordshire. Great sport was to be had via a daily competition to beat each other’s “jobs done” list. They too have clean skylights, and wrote a cheeky “ode to Talland on lockdown”, but never bettered our home-grown rhubarb crumble.

    This pandemic has put us into survival mode. Even now that the green light is on, we must make ends meet under new onerous restrictions. Strangulated cash flow has yet to catch up with many businesses.

    We also need to work out how to maintain the improvements we’ve made to our lives – like having more time for our horses – while achieving the need to make a living.

    A united front

    The post-mortem on how the crisis has been handled is one for another day while lives and health are still at risk. Heaven forbid that the virus rate rises again. But it’s never too early to acknowledge what we’ve learnt.

    Ingestre’s joint-owner Tim Downes FBHS became a valued friend and mentor during the shutdown, as we pooled ideas and worked to help each other’s riding schools. Our Talland fundraising blueprint has gone on to help around 250 other establishments. And I thank the British Horse Society for listening carefully to an unlock strategy for riding schools that Tim and I worked on in an effort to stay ahead of the game.

    Throughout lockdown, I made no secret that I was riding and working while observing government guidelines. But rules have been broken by some at the top of horse sport, who’ve been saying one thing and doing another. No one, however famous, is above the law.

    In the wider equestrian world, let’s hope our governing bodies work with greater unity when it comes to resuming activity than they did at the point of lockdown. A gulf has been exposed between administrators still in salaried jobs and people trying to run businesses.

    Finally, spare a thought for riding schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which, at the time of writing, are still closed. They will need heaps of support from the equestrian community.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 28 May 2020

    Read more of Pammy’s thoughts…