Following the Sunday, 10 May update from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, which offered increased opportunities for exercise, British Equestrian (BEF) has released updated guidance for the equestrian community. This new guidance allows – or in the case of the British Horse Society, encourages – riders to get back in the saddle, as well as to partake in private lessons with trainers and travel with their horses to hired facilities, as long as social distancing measures can be carried out appropriately.
“The recommendation to only ride or drive where strictly necessary was in place to negate any extra burden on the medical and emergency services,” said the BEF in a statement. “However, with the NHS now operating within capacity, the equestrian public can exercise their own horses, or those in their care, as they require, including hacking. This must be within any UK government guidelines, including the restrictions on travel that remain in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Social distancing must be observed at all times, as should public health, hygiene and biosecurity requirements.”
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remain in a tighter lockdown, but for riders and trainers in England, this will allow for some resumption of normal activity – though the BEF urges riders to remain responsible and cautious.
“We continue to request that riders, drivers and vaulters consider the risk of their activity, and to ride or exercise where it is safe to do so and within their capabilities and fitness levels for them and their horse,” the statement continued. “Those residing in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should remain within the boundaries of the premises where the horses are kept, where at all possible.”
Trainers will now be able to travel to clients’ yards throughout England to teach in ‘controlled outdoor environments’, though they can only teach individual riders or household groups. A 2m distance must be maintained between trainer and pupil, and if the trainer is required to ride a client’s horse, any shared tack must be disinfected between riders to minimise the risk of viral contamination.
Venues reopening for public hire must conduct full risk assessments and ensure that hygiene and social distancing methods are enforced. These measures may include limiting bookings and providing contactless payment and waiver provisions. Riders travelling to a venue must do so alone or in the company of a member of their household, and may only ride with household members or one other person – be that a friend or a trainer – with appropriate social distancing.
“Right across the country, most people have upheld their societal responsibility to help with the management of the pandemic and the equestrian community has certainly risen to the challenge,” said BEF Chairman Malcom Wharton. “These have been testing weeks with many riders separated from their horses, coaches and grooms, often without income, and riding schools without their clients – whatever our situation, none of us have been unaffected.
“Many have followed our advice to the letter and some have continued to ride, but as safely as is possible and I thank you all for your support. Conditions are right that we can soften our message, as we all know the proven health benefits, both in terms of physical and mental wellbeing, that exercising with horses brings. We need to remain vigilant, stay alert and not take any undue risks, so that we can continue to ease towards the full resumption of activity, when the time is right.”
So far, coaches and venues are resuming activity on varying scales. While many facilities are opting to reopen their arenas and cross-country courses for normal use, others have opted to wait and observe what happens next, particularly as many riders still feel that jumping and training pose too much of a risk in the current climate.
Individual discipline-specific governing bodies will be releasing their own guidelines on a long-term sport resumption plan. The BEF stresses that these new, slightly eased guidelines are contingent on government advice – that is, if numbers start to rise again and lockdown is tightened, the ability to travel to ride and teach will be necessarily removed.
For now, though, this will come as a welcome change for self-employed trainers who may have found themselves overlooked in the government’s stimulus plan.