Britain’s riding centres facing supply and demand issues

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Working in tandem with the British Horse Society (BHS), the Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS+), The Pony Club (PC) and Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA), British Equestrian (BEF) can now release the headline findings of their ground-breaking research into the health status of the United Kingdom’s riding centres. The data has been extensively analysed to deliver action points, with the overall aim to help our centres thrive and grow as part of the wider strategic aims of British Equestrian.

Launched in March this year, a comprehensive survey was sent to nearly 1,700 riding centres, around 1,200 of which are affiliated with a member body and around 500 that are council-licensed, to investigate capacity, facilities, staffing and activities provided, as well as the main challenges faced around viability, costs, marketing and profitability, and the impact of Covid on these factors.  Responses were received from 311 centres across the UK, representing around 25% of member body affiliated centres.

The standout message from the centres was they are in the midst of a supply and demand predicament, which is both a positive and negative. Interest in riding remains buoyant, but over two thirds of centres are currently struggling to keep up with enquiries and take on new clients, creating a barrier to increasing participation.

Conversely, on average, centres are running at 75% capacity due to issues around workforce, both paid and volunteer, suitable and affordable horsepower, and skyrocketing costs. Over 70% reported that these issues have been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, compounded by an average of 62% reduction of income since the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 were in place.

Another challenge having an impact on some businesses is licensing requirements and processes. The costs, complexity and time involved are considerable, and this is a source of frustration for some of the centre proprietors who responded to the survey.

“This research data will help us better understand the current challenges faced by riding centres, which we can use to work towards a viable future for our riding centres, and I’d like to thank all those who took time to facilitate and complete the survey, which has given us incredible insight,” said Mandana Mehran Pour, Head of Participation at British Equestrian.

“It’s been an incredibly challenging time for our riding centres, who’ve shown remarkable resilience and there is a degree of optimism out there,” she continued.  “This study has highlighted the diversity of riding centres across the UK landscape, and the struggles they face to adapt and grow to meet challenges they currently face.

“British Equestrian, along with member bodies, is determined to support these centres to help equestrianism remain popular and accessible for all. We now need to identify and execute plans to best support these centres and make sure they can convert interest into income through what will be another highly turbulent year as the cost-of-living challenges intensify existing issues.”

British Equestrian, in collaboration with BHS, PC, RDA and ABRS+, is committed to further exploring the issues riding establishments are facing in the current climate and working to find solutions. The key findings of the survey have been distilled into six action points, from which we’ll collectively develop a series of short, medium and long-term projects.

These include:

ACTION ONE: Workforce – with nearly half of all centres reporting they don’t have sufficient paid staff and are struggling to find staff with appropriate levels of skills or a willingness to commit, creating a robust workforce is more important than ever. We will collaborate to ensure steps are in place to look at the shortage and how that can be addressed through enhanced opportunities in equestrian careers.

ACTION TWO: Horsepower – the availability of affordable and/or suitable horses is a major concern, and work will be done on increasing awareness around relevant loan and sharing options for mutual benefit and gain. In addition, there will be an investigation into options around sourcing horses, breeding programmes and horses transitioning careers.

ACTION THREE: Licencing – an action group has already been established and is actively looking into this area and, where possible, will influence current requirements in the coming months.

ACTION FOUR: Capacity demands – we will conduct further research to gain a better understanding of what capacity issues mean for centres in general, including ‘supply and demand’ and waitlists, and if there are geographical trends within the United Kingdom.

ACTION FIVE: Growth – we will work with our member bodies to pilot projects to provide business support for centres, helping to produce growth plans and better signpost development funding opportunities, including the Together Fund. In addition, work will be done to signpost business support advice and workshops for centres to tap into.

ACTION SIX: Rising costs – alongside Sport England and other home nations, we will collaborate with the wider sector to monitor this issue, including the long-term impact of Covid, alongside the current cost of living crisis and the effects on operational costs and public demand for equestrian activity.

The established group of BEF, BHS, ABRS+, PC and RDA have already made progress in a number of areas and will continue to meet regularly to progress the identified action areas, alongside monitoring of the current issues and financial climate.  An extensive audit of the centres who took part in the survey will be conducted in the short-term to get more detailed picture of the challenges faced ‘on the ground’.

Another initiative already in motion to help centres facing financial difficulties as they rebuild after Covid-19 is the Together Fund, which we’re working with Sport England to deliver. Launched in August, the fund totals £195,000 from which centres to bid for small grants to support growth and engagement in physical activity. A number of bids have already been successful, and applications are invited immediately in an open process. More information and details on how to apply are available here.

If any of these findings resonate with centre owners out in the industry, please feel free to get in touch and let us know via email,

All centres who completed the survey were entered into a draw to win one of five prizes over £1,200 worth of Classic Fibre Cubes from British Equestrian partners Dodson & Horrell to benefit their yard. Congratulations to Danielle McKinnon of Eat Sleep Ride, Jo Jameson of Wickstead Farm Equestrian Centre, Christine Farnaby from Long Field Equestrian Centre, Justine Armstrong-Small of Just Riding and Di Redfern from South Bucks RDA.

A summary of the survey findings is available:

 Download BEF RidinG Centre Healthcheck overview.pdf