COVID-19: Indoor arena use in England

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Issued 31 March 2021 - updated 07 April 2021

After nearly a week of discussions, British Equestrian had confirmation this afternoon from the Cabinet Office, via the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), that the use indoor arenas in England remains restricted under the most recent legislation.

In a campaign lead by British Equestrian, the British Horse Society, the Pony Club and the Olympic governing bodies, clarification was requested following a change in legislation, released on Friday 26 March, which ordered indoor riding arenas to remain closed in England except for some exceptions.

Our previous agreement with government that equestrian indoor venues would be classified as outdoors due to their agricultural and airy nature no long applies to England. This is because the classification of what makes a venue ‘indoors' has been now been determined using section 2 of the Health Act 2006, which relates to smoke-free regulations.

The roadmap

Defra has provided a roadmap in line with the step-by-step process that’s been outlined by the government for the use of indoor schools/arenas in England, which outlines:

  • An indoor structure is classed as a place that is considered to be enclosed, or substantially enclosed for the purpose of smoke-free regulations – detail provided in the PDF below.
  • A structure would likely be classed as outdoors if more than 50% of the area of its walls are open. Further details as to what constitutes an outdoor structure can be found in the PDF below.


Step 1 – from 29 March

An indoor riding arena may be used for the following exceptions:

  • Elite sports people – this is largely restricted to athletes on the World Class Programme at P1 and P2 level
  • An owner of an animal kept at a riding centre
  • Employees of a riding centre in order to care for and exercise horses or provide veterinary services
  • Organised sport and leisure activity for disabled people and children as part of their care is permitted indoors
  • Supervised activities for children or other persons who were under the age of 18 on 31 August 2020, limited to 15 participants
  • Activities that form part of the core curriculum of formal education or professional/work-related training/development

Outside the above exceptions, indoor riding arenas must remain closed until Step 2, which will be no earlier than 12 April.

Step 2 – no earlier than 12 April

Under Step 2, indoor arenas will be allowed to open for use as a single household or bubble. There should be no mixing of households until at least Step 3 (no earlier than 17 May). The above exceptions will still apply. Update 07/04.21 - Sport England has confirmed that coaches acting in a 'workforce' capacity are exempt from the rules of gathering. This will also permit equine sport in indoor arenas to take place with a single competitor in the school at a time to complete their round/test. Indoor arenas may be used for warm up but on a 'one in, one out' basis only so only a single rider is inside at a time.

Step 3 – no earlier than 17 May

At Step 3, the intention is that indoor arenas may be used in line with the wider social contact limits at this stage – a group of six people or two households.

This is Defra’s current confirmed position and we ask the equestrian sector in England to operate in line with the above at this time. There is further information on the website or Sport England.

Going forward

Collectively, we will continue to make the strong case for the use of equestrian indoor riding arenas in England with government in a bid to get agreement on their use at an earlier stage. We have support from a number of MPs and Whitehall staff, plus Sport England, who have worked strongly on our behalf. We thank our member bodies for their support and input this week and, with the support of the British Horse Council, we will not let this situation rest.

Iain Graham, British Equestrian Chief Executive said; “By working together and presenting a united case, we put forward as strong argument. However, the position remains that indoor arenas are to stay closed on the whole in England. We all share the disappointment and frustration that we know a number of venues, proprietors and the equine community will be feeling. However, we will continue the campaign on everyone’s behalf, with the support of Sport England, in a bid to get indoor riding facilities fully open within the government’s stage 2 timeframe which we hope will be 12 April.”

Ohter nations


The use of indoor/covered arenas is permitted with in travel restrictions, number limits and health and hygiene measures in Scotland. Horsescotland issued an update to their COVID guidance yesterday.


All activity must take place outdoors under the current guidance, indoor arenas should not be used for lessons or competition. However, we understand that the same exemptions in place for England for use of an indoor arena apply:

  • An owner of an animal kept at a riding centre
  • Employees of a riding centre in order to care for and exercise horses or provide veterinary services