For centuries, the horse has had a
special place in this country. Horses have carried soldiers into battle, provided the power for agriculture and provided the
principal means of land transport until the early part of the last century. While
the horse no longer fulfils these roles, it still gives pleasure to many millions, some of whom ride while many more watch.
And the horse gives employment to tens of thousands.
So, the horse continues to make a hugely
important contribution to the economy and to the social fabric of many communities. It also contributes to the health and
education of many people.
Surprisingly for such an important
industry, we have little factual information about it. How many horses are there in Great Britain? How many people ride? How many people work
with horses, and in businesses which support horses? What is the industry worth? How do changes to one part of the industry
affect others? Where we do have information it is not always consistent or comprehensive.
When I look on my present responsibilities
at Defra I found this lack of information surprising. We must have answers to these questions (and many more) before we can
answer the next question: How can we increase the economic value of the horse industry, and enhance its contribution to the
social, educational, health and sporting life of the nation?
I was also amazed to find that, while
I was the third Minister for the Horse, there was not one single Official for the Horse to work with the horse organisations
on the development of the horse industry. But I have now put this right. Working with the Official for the Horse is a small,
dedicated team which is co-operating with the horse organisations to draw up a plan to achieve their aspiration for a thriving,
more competitive industry. The commitment of this team is enormous and is reflected by their popularity with horse organisations.
With the British Horse Industry Confederation
(BHIC) taking the lead for the horse world, we jointly agreed that the first step must be to commission a Great Britainwide
survey of the industry. The task was given to The Henley Centre, and their report has now been published1. At over
100 pages (some of them devoted to complex economic discussions) it is not light reading. But it is exciting reading for anyone
who cares! This leaflet summarises some of the key findings of the research.
It also tells you how you can become
involved in shaping the future of the horse industry in this country. I hope you will seize this opportunity. But I would
echo what one of your own number is quoted in this leaflet as saying about the fragmentation of the industry. Given their
common interest in the horse, I have been surprised by the energy-sapping divisions within the horse industry. As somebody
ruefully put it to me recently, the decline in the horse population over the past 100 years has been matched by a burgeoning
in the number of horse organisations. Whereas specialist discipline organisations undoubtedly serve a useful purpose, divisions
rooted in protecting ones patch can only limit the effectiveness of what should be one of the most powerful forces for good
in rural England. So those who care about the horse in British
society must work together or together choose to be ineffective. Its your choice.
Rt. Hon. Alun Michael MP
Minister of State for Rural Affairs
and Local Environment Quality and Minister for the Horse
The full report can be found on the Defra website. Hard copies can be obtained, whilestocks last, from Defra Publications,
Admail 6000, London SW1A 2XX Tel: 08459 556000