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Horse and Hound Archive Articles

From the files....

Yes, we do still need that big, strong voice

Column: Off the Bit by Loriner (22 March 1985)


IN THE issue of March 1, under the heading "Fragmented," there is a letter from a Mr. Edward Bourgoin of Uckfield, Sussex, in which he writes: "When the horse world in general and hunting in particular are under threat from the increasingly militant animal rights groups, closure of bridleways and a bad public image generally, it is time the childish fragmentation was overcome and a united front was presented to the public and the media".

He finished his letter thus: "Without unity we are an insignificant lobbying group that warrants little serious attention".



These are welcome words, but how depressing that they still have to be written. Similar sentiments have been frequently aired in this column. If I remember alright, almost identical sentiments were expressed at the last, if not the last two British Horse Society's annual general meetings, as doubtless he will recall if (as one hopes) he was there.

But was he? I have no idea, but the reason why he and possibly others who do equally sterling work at county level were not present could well be that many people feel that the British Horse Society or its work is too distant.

This is no reflection on the Society — far from it — but it is a fact that the A.G.M. of a society specifically involved with one aspect of the horse world — dressage, say, or long distance riding, or a particular breed of pony — will attract a far larger attendance than the B.H.S. A.G.M. With the former, people are directly involved: decisions affect them personally. With the latter, for the most part, the deliberations are more aloof.



It often surprises me that people grumble at paying an annual subscription of 11 for the B.H.S., yet happily fork out twice that to be a member of Burghley, or 21 for a four-day car park at Badminton, which is pure entertainment.

Not altogether surprisingly, people are not fully aware of what the official national governing body —- what Mr. Bourgoin refers to as the "umbrella" — actually does for them.

People connected with horses tend to be very individual, some would say inward looking. On the whole, horsemen tend not to look upon the horse world as one great entity, but rather as a federation of limited interests of which they are involved in just one or two.

All too often, it is quite obvious that those interested in show jumping, for instance, could not careless about eventing; dressage enthusiasts cannot see what long distance riding has to do with them; polo enthusiasts have no time for hunting; the driving world does not in any way involve itself with riding clubs or the Pony Club. The showing world is particularly individual.

This obviously is generalising, but on the whole it is true, and it is understandable. In the first place, most people just have not the time, or the money, to indulge in more than perhaps two equestrian pursuits.

Hunting, for instance, is an expensive pastime; it is not easy to be involved in showing as well for, as was pointed out in a recent article, showing becomes increasing costly while prize money is still totally inadequate.

Racing, of course, is a world to itself. One hardly expects racing people to be too concerned with dressage. It might be better if they were. I remember well the then successful trainer Bob McCreery introducing dressage into his training methods as, if I remember correctly, he considered it quite ridiculous for a horse to be allegedly unable to act on a left-handed course, or a right-handed one.

But it is not only the cost of involvement in too many equestrian activities. They are all so different. It is completely understandable that a person should be interested in just one, or at most two. He, or she, then puts all his or her energy into that one pursuit. This, surely, makes sense.

What is important, however, Mr. Bourgoin points out, is that people should appreciate the fact that they are all inter-related and directly or indirectly dependent upon each other. They cannot exist in isolation, except perhaps racing, which is its own industry; though even here there is the common denominator with the rest through breeding.



The vital thing, of course, is that the horse world should speak with one big, strong voice, especially when, as Mr. Bourgoin pointed out, the horse world is coming under attack from all sides.

(It is not, of course, the British Horse Society's role specifically to support hunting. That task is adequately carried out by the British Field Sports Society and, if it is true that the horse world has a bad public image, then it is only the fault of those who make up the horse world.)

It is true that many societies and organisations are "affiliated" to the B.H.S. — 52 according to Mr. Bourgoin, 55 according to me! But is this enough?

Should not every member of every society affiliated to the B.H.S pay a small affiliation fee, as do the members of riding clubs, if sometimes rather grudgingly? After all, the society is working endlessly on their behalf. Company membership at 20 per annum is not enough.

It might even be worth considering reducing the annual membership subscription to the B.H.S if this is being met with resistance, to, say 5. Then all the 50-odd affiliated bodies, the breed societies, Ponies of Britain, Hackney Horse Society, Ladies Side-Saddle Association, British Show Hack and Cob and Riding Horse Association, and so on, including the Hunters' Improvement and National Light Horse Breeding Society, which is the vital limb from the breeding point of view, could probably increase their subscriptions without its being resented, the members being individually and personally involved in any one particular society's activities. This would then enable each society to contribute to the B.H.S. aper capita affiliation fee.

This would not only bring an enormous increase in revenue, easily offsetting the reduction in the B.H.S.'s annual subscription but it would also produce the members which would enable the horse world, through the B.H.S., to speak with that big, strong voice which is desperately needed if the horse world is going to be able to exert any influence at all — in Parliament, with government departments, with the media — rather than be no more than Mr. Bourgoin's "insignificant lobbying group that warrants little serious attention", the inevitable result of "childish fragmentation".

Source:  Horse & Hound Magazine 22 March 1985



Never before have riding schools had it so bad

A report by Adella Lithman (1 September 1994)


THE ASSOCIATION of British Riding Schools celebrates its 40th birthday and Ruby anniversary this year, but for the 600 members the future is better summed up by strewn glass shards than glittering precious rubies.

Around 70 schools drowned in the Uniform Business Rate of the late '80s and next year the survivors will have to face it all again when UBR is subject to revaluations.

The introduction of water meters worries those in the south, while riding costs and competition for customers in the fierce market place with all other sports concerns all riding schools throughout the country.

So do the new generation of clients swift to sue if they fall off and EC recommendations which zealous local government officers seem adamant on implementing, making the woman who champions the cause laugh.

Pauline Harris laughs because she is an optimist. If she were not, she would be crying. She highlighted some of the nonsensical adversity facing her proprietors today by relating the tale of a Midlands health and safety officer fussing about the EC recommendation for lifting awkward weights.

"He ruled that any person under 5ft 4in tall should not put a saddle on a horse of 16 hh and over. His further thinking was that if this had to be done, then a hoist should be provided. It begged the question, whether the hoist was to lift the person with the saddle," said Mrs Harris smiling, "or just the saddle."

Mrs Harris, the Association's chairman, is determined to fight for the survival of riding schools.

"The day they cease, and that can happen, she warns, "will be the day people, who get such satisfaction from riding, are going to be bitterly disappointed.

"The rest of the industry is depending on riding schools to produce many of their future customers. The way forward is for all to be united."

There are around 3,000 riding schools in Britain today, some flourishing, run on superb business lines, others scraping by only because of their love and knowledge of the horse.

Mrs Harris, a grandmother who was widowed three years ago, has seen the noose on riding schools growing more tight. She was the grandaughter of a man who had the largest business of hiring horses, carriages and wagons in Derbyshire. She was given a pony on her first birthday and led around by one of her seven sisters in a basket chair.

She grew up to be an accomplished rider but was not to enter the equine industry for 10 years. Instead, Miss Pauline Dodd became a cub reporter and then the youngest woman, at 21, to be a Tory Party agent, fighting the election at the end of the II World War.

Miss Dodd later accompanied her RAF officer husband in his work for the Colonial Service to Nigeria, Germany and Singapore, at each station riding and teaching.

In 1968, the couple returned to England and bought the eight bedroomed Rushop Hall with 170 acres in High Peak country, North Derbyshire. They farmed, bred horses, raced and setup a school, for locals and overseas riders too, so that each month, in the height of the summer, there would be 400 riders.

The last horse moved out of Rushop in 1988 and now Mrs Harris lives there with a housekeeper, too busy with campaigning to think of being lonely.

She is worried by the '95 UBR revaluation and, at the ABRS conference next month has asked an expert to address the audience. "New members," she says, "will have not gone through the UBR horrendous experience."

Last time those with indoor schools suffered the most. One proprietor who had been paying rates of 8,000 was suddenly faced with a UBR demand of 40,000.

The ABRS had a panel of four advisers who appealed on behalf of the proprietor and won a reduced amount of 18,000. But it took two years and in the mean time the proprietor had to borrow 40,000.

"Some could not survive, and these were the sort of people who could not get through a day without looking at a horse. They lost not only their businesses but their way of life. Others decided to retire and some changed the slant of their businesses."

The list of problems was seemingly endless. The MP Harry Greenway has been asked to take the case against water meters, but there were still question marks over regulations requiring escorts for pupils hacking out.

"If the ration is going to be one qualified employee to two pupils proprietors will not be able to afford to let pupils hack out and pupils do not want to stay in the confines of a school all the time."

There was the knotty point, too, over unlicensed and uninsured "cowboy schools" giving cut price lessons.

"They really anger me," says Mrs Harris. "They are helping the demise of riding schools.

"But," she adds spiritedly, "I am an optimist. If we speak loud enough and push hard enough we can always get something done."

Source:  Horse & Hound Magazine 1 September 1994



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