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Riding Safely

One size doesnt fit all......

Dressage Comment – Richard Davison
From Horse & Hound Magazine – 30 June 2005

For me to get access to ponies at the age of eight, I had to go to the Middleton Riding School, which is just outside Tamworth.  Spending all Saturday handling, tacking-up, brushing and leading ponies in lessons culminated in the highlight of the day — riding down the lane bareback to turn them out for the night. Without my realizing it, the whole experience taught empathy and how to anticipate what a horse may do.

But thanks to the great EU, our government and a culture of litigation, this is a thing of the past. Bareback riding and the level of "helping out" that we were allowed to do as children is no longer possible.


Are we heading towards an ultra-clinical, ultra-safe Britain?


The burden of bureaucracy that has contributed to the demise of many riding schools is now creeping into the life of the dressage trainer. 


Over-the-top health and safety, employment and other legislation is detracting from the real jobs.  Have you seen the demands of the latest health and safety risk assessment routines? These apply equally to factories, offices and equestrian yards.  Every single task—from carrying water buckets to moving jumps, let alone grooming and turning-out—has to be evaluated and then given risk ratings for the likelihood of the severity of an injury to a person.  Each horse has to be risk-assessed in terms of what level of person can do which tasks with it.


And even the weekly arrival of the refuse collector has to be scored for his potential for triggering an accident.


Any trainers or yard owners who haven't yet done these assessments can look forward to a task that will take many months of extra evening slog. Plus every show now has to do such risk assessments as well. And having done all that, you then have to train your staff to read and abide by these findings.


"These days, I feel like I'm a full-time form-filler. When I started Barleyfields Equestrian Centre 11 years ago, I spent 100% of my time teaching, which is what I love," says proprietor Fiona Holt. "When and who is going to call a stop and get back to common sense?"


But now it seems that even common sense has to be quantified and drafted to paper.


Some believe riding is a risk sport, but do we really have a high-risk industry here? I think not.


All these schemes are mostly borne out of government-funded agencies. These exist to give bureaucrats boxes to tick and achievements to brag about. Oh and a gravy train to jump aboard.


But does "one size fits all" across all industries justify the enormous burden it puts on small businesses such as Fiona's?


Most policemen will say they spend far too much time filling in forms and too little actually fighting crime these days. Then we're fed the idea that "recorded" crime is falling.


Dressage rider and trainer Dries Roefs, who has moved from Britain to Germany, says: "Compared with Britain, the same EU regulations exist in Germany but they are not as strict in their enforcement. Show centres are not burdened with the same level of health and safety regulations. As a dressage trainer here, what matters is my skill, not whether I've taken a government course."


We need a true voice of the industry, and therein lies the problem. There are so many meetings, papers and draft directives to discuss, that there is a danger those representing us are not those who ultimately have to bear the cost.


The people at the coalface are so busy filling out forms (and doing their work) that there's no time left for them to be on any committees. This needs to be addressed.

Finally, senior figures in horse organisations who negotiate on our behalf should not allow bureaucracy to take hold.


Don't accept it—think of the personal cost for those in private enterprise. And the cost that will ultimately be passed onto the client or pupil.


France has finally woken up to the EU's gratuitous bureaucracy, and perhaps we should follow suit. Or do what the Dutch did and say: “Neigh".

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