Pammy Hutton: We need riders, not bookworms *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s dressage columnist questions the effects of the pandemic on our industry

    After a locked-down season, it was exciting for my daughter Pippa Hutton to go to the European Youth Championships in Pilisjàszfalu, Hungary, as trainer to a 13-year-old competitor.

    Pippa returned home safe and well to report that everything was well organised. The four arenas, including the main competition one, had excellent surfaces, the stables were handy and the food very good. There were even two equestrian shops on site.

    Elation at prize-givings was a little muted by social distancing, but was nonetheless in evidence, and masks stayed on in the stables.

    These days, everyone must pay close attention to maintain competition life. So, well done Hungary for putting on a proper international show that will help grow the next generation.

    Shake off the stuffy image

    Now, more than ever, the horse industry needs strong leadership. We need governing bodies, not advisory ones, and too often now the British Horse Society (BHS) seems to give advice rather than firm guidance.

    On a practical level, those of us running businesses want to be told what we can do, not what we can’t, so that we can crack on safely.

    Of course, we must be cautious; one Covid case on our yard would mean closure and potentially curtains. Yet we still await guidance on masks and we’re still not running lead-rein or beginner lessons.

    Has no one recognised that there’s never been a better time to promote the healthy lifestyle riding offers? With indoor gyms and swimming pools less popular, and outdoor activity in vogue, it’s the perfect time for a PR and advertising campaign. And not just to certain groups in society, but to everyone…

    My household is on a diet, and the Prime Minster has hired a personal trainer, because slim and fit prolongs life. So, let’s make riding part of the nation’s health kick, and start by shaking off the stuffy image.

    Group efforts

    Good things are afoot. Having campaigned for a decade to open doors for disabled riders, giving them opportunities in line with the modern world, I’m now supporting a working party on the subject.

    And, speaking for Talland, my family’s riding school, we’ve never been fuller, with great clients from across the world, physically and virtually. A Trinidad-based partnership trained via Zoom is flourishing, improving competitively from advanced medium to inter II – surprising even me!

    We’ve all had more than enough to overcome, so it’s important we stick together and work together to progress our recovery.

    Between us, Ingestre Stables in Stafford and Talland have tried to promote fun alongside learning leading to qualifications. OK, we get carried away attempting to out-cook each other or setting up jumping-without stirrups or riding-with-eggs-in-our-hands challenges, and no one ever wins. But the simple act of making staff and students smile has truly been a mental tonic.

    Should a sense of fun be embraced more widely by equestrianism’s bodies? And used to promote what we love to more people?

    Better for horses

    Despite my misgivings, I still advocate BHS assessments (how I wish the term examinations had been kept) as the best qualifications. But for the BHS to spring to the minds of competition riders and coaches as it once did, it needs to regain appeal to young equestrian professionals.

    Instead, the new system is in danger of becoming too academic. Yet we need riders and trainers, not bookworms; people to look up to as I did to Jennie Loriston-Clarke. I see the BHS advertising itself widely as a welfare organisation. But, surely, practical education and assessment of new knowledge can only improve the way horses are cared for and ridden.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 10 September 2020