“Riding Schools at Risk”. The article reports that a massive 15% of riding schools have closed since 2018, equating to 1.5 million less lessons available per year! The reasons given were:
Historically, many grass roots riding schools survived on ‘child labour’ (we’ve all been that girl mucking out 20 stables for a free half hour ride); a ‘Heath Robinson’ approach to their facilities; and, shall we say, an ‘economical’ approach to horse welfare. Whilst this set up taught me a huge amount as a child, changes in legislation and customer expectation have forced riding schools to up their game. This change is something that I whole heartedly applaud and I believe our industry, individual businesses, horses and riders are all the better for this. HOWEVER, this change comes at significant cost and this is the part that folks have not caught up with.
As a youngster my lessons costs £20/hr. 30 years later I find myself still having to justify to people why we need to charge £35, whilst the same people will happily pay twice that to sit on a quad bike which has no operating costs at rest. This is madness.
The math simply doesn’t add up anymore, and, in my opinion, this is why equestrian businesses are closing.
The general public agree horse welfare should be a priority. Society also believes in fair working terms and opportunities for staff. These are now mainstream and imposed by law. Consumers want high quality, meaningful experiences – this is self-policed via reputation, these days ‘governed’ by TripAdvisor. So, if everyone is getting what they want, horses, consumers, staff, where is the problem – ah yes, the business owners and operators. From experience I can promise you, it is IMPOSSIBLE to deliver all of the above on a business model where £35/hour is still considered appropriate. The market MUST catch up if riding hubs are to continue to survive, never mind thrive.
What I would like to shout from the rooftops is: here is our opportunity to take some responsibility and put things right. Let’s continue to proudly raise the standard of horse care and welfare, alongside the quality and integrity of equestrian experiences. We shall do so, unashamedly charging a fair price for this. The industry and consumers must work together to encourage improvements, not squeeze prices down to wounding and unstainable levels. We hope that you will stand proudly beside us as we provide you with unforgettable adventures, whilst empowering and valuing your horses and hosts just as they deserve – together, let this be our legacy.
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