BETA Conference seeks to increase rider numbers

Participation – Is the future of the equestrian industry at risk?” was the theme of this year’s British Equestrian Trade Association Conference held at Whittlebury Hall Hotel & Spa, near Towcester, Northamptonshire, on 2 November.

More than 50 trade delegates gathered to hear a series of presentations offering thought-provoking solutions and suggestions for tackling the falling number of riders identified in the BETA commissioned 2015 National Equestrian Survey.

BETA president and former event rider Jane Holderness-Roddam shared her personal view on the world of riding today – one that she feels is hampered by strict health and safety rules.  Anna Hall, the British Equestrian Federation’s head of participation, brought a governing-body perspective to proceedings, explaining how the BEF charts rider activity and works alongside other equestrian bodies to share insight and take part in mutual promotions.

Anna Franklin, assistant manager of the Thomas Irving Equestrian Superstore, Chesterfield, provided good tips to help retailers promote horse riding through in-store activities such as hiring a BETA mechanical horse or running events with local Pony Club branches.

Statistics formed the basis of BETA executive director Claire Williams’s presentation, in which she used the 2015 National Equestrian Survey to show the changing trends in rider participation since 1999. She identified the lack of access to horses and places to ride as key obstacles to many enjoying horse riding and suggested alternative routes rather than relying solely on the traditional riding school.

Ex-Royal Marine Commando Jason “Jay” Hare provided an inspirational presentation on the way in which horses can play a crucial role in the recovery of services personnel who have been injured or affected by post-traumatic stress disorder. Jay, who had a 14-year services career before suffering life-changing injuries, is now operations manager of HorseBack UK, a charity dedicated to empowering these men and women from its base in rural Scotland.

Rockstar Equitation Centre owner Kay Scott-Jarvis spoke of a riding school’s role in helping to encourage more people to take up riding as an enjoyable leisure activity. She believed that well-trained horses, a safe, experienced and friendly environment, and cost incentives such as block-booking discounts were essentials for those wishing to learn to ride – or to return to riding after a break.

“Keep riding fun” was the emphatic call from vet and holiday provider Unicorn Trails owner Wendy Hofstee, who looked at alternatives to riding schools, such as trekking centres and holidays for individuals and groups. She also called for the levels of adventure to be increased for men, who would relish the idea of hunting and herding cattle, while activities with greater control, such as natural horsemanship and dressage, should be made widely available to women.

“We have been delighted with feedback from delegates,” said BETA executive Claire Williams. “Many have said that the conference was the best yet and they were extremely impressed with the broad range of speakers.

“The presentations certainly sparked some lively debate and got the trade talking, which is absolutely fantastic and exactly what needs to happen. We shall all work together to develop the number of horse riders and today was a great start!”