Top show horse producer Simon Reynolds shares why he’s concerned about the future of showing and some suggestions about how to bring the sport back on track
SHOWING is in trouble and I’m nervous about which direction we appear to be heading. Trying to pinpoint the reasons for low entries at shows and the reoccurring negativity on social media is no easy task.
Perhaps the explanation is a combination of factors; the impact of Covid, the crippling cost of living – particularly fuel and energy costs – and the overall perception of our sport. For many, showing is a hobby they can no longer afford.
Since Covid, people have also found other outlets and they’ve realised that their spare time is precious. Competitors faced with large entry fees and diesel costs are expecting more bang for their buck.
Sadly, the equestrian centre shows do not provide a family day out, yet they do satisfactorily serve their purpose for the serious competitor. Permanent show centres offer reliability for the show organiser, with hardstanding car parking, surfaces unaffected by the weather and catering facilities, and are a tried-and-tested formula. Often, competitors don’t realise just how much it takes to build, run and maintain these centres. I dread to think where we would be without them.
The reallocation of Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) qualifiers post-Covid has hit the county shows hard and it’s a great shame to see their decline. I hope that we can rekindle some of the county favourites in the future, although if the membership does not support showing, it will be the downfall of their resurrection.
I enjoyed competing recently at Nottinghamshire County Show, where the general public attendance was enormous, with a fantastic atmosphere, lots of displays and a superb main ring. However, the showing numbers were still worryingly low. Arguably, this show ran close to Royal Windsor, but as I know many people didn’t go there, I have to ask, where is everybody?
There is the familiar disgruntlement regarding high entry fees, but members need to be aware just how much it costs to run these shows. I think they would be shocked at the figures. Historically, ring and car park stewards were on a voluntary basis, but now these volunteers require some recompense for their fuel. Costs for everything have risen and the only way to move forward is to pass this cost on to the consumer.
Think before posting
IT has been so disheartening, yet again, to witness the misuse of social media to incite negativity surrounding our sport. If I were to offer one piece of advice, it would be to think long and hard before posting. One person’s opinion becomes a huge sound box and can rapidly become akin to bullying tactics. As soon as you post something, you then lose control of the content, as it can be shared far and wide.
There are robust complaints procedures in place with the governing societies, and I can assure you that these concerns are investigated rigorously. No issue will ever be solved in the boiling pot of social media.
However, we must look forward. What can we do to bring our sport back on track? Let’s not forget that all equestrian disciplines have seen a decline, but that is not to say we should not be proactive. Sitting there scratching our heads will not help. There is no point shutting the proverbial stable door after the horse has bolted.
We should be listening to the members. Perhaps a feedback questionnaire would highlight areas for development. It’s bewildering when both the county shows and the equestrian centre shows are not being well supported. We need to discover what the modern competitor really wants from their day out at a show.
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- This exclusive column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 21 June
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