At least 75% of riding centres across the UK are struggling to source the staff they need to run at full capacity, the British Horse Society (BHS) has revealed.
This is leaving riding schools at “breaking point”, with a lack of qualified coaches and long waiting lists having a detrimental impact on equine participation.
As a result, the charity has so far seen a loss of 1.5 million opportunities for children to benefit from the companionship and emotional support that horses provide.
These opportunities are expected to decrease even further as living costs continue to rise.
The Prince’s Trust have reported that more than two thirds of 18- to 24-year-olds have now lowered their career expectations, with the cost of living named as one of the biggest factors. The BHS says this will lead to fewer people choosing an equestrian career and, in turn, even more riding school closures.
“Demand to attend a riding school and connect with horses has never been stronger, with most centres reporting a waiting list of 50 clients or more,” said James Hick, Chief Executive at the BHS. “But, without the qualified coaches and yard staff needed to run these centres, this demand is just not going to be fulfilled.
“This is such a frightening prospect. We need to acknowledge how important spending time with horses is for our mental health and overall wellbeing. Without that special horse-human bond, so many children and adults would simply not be where they are today.”
The BHS is working to protect and support the future equestrian workforce. Through its Career Transition Fund, the charity provides financial support to students training for their equine qualifications.
This funding has been able to support those who never thought it would be possible to have an equine career, such as Malika Keijar who started as a volunteer at Birmingham-based Summerfields Stables.
“When I started teaching it gave me so much joy and I realised that it was something I really wanted to do,” Malika said. “However, I was hesitant that, being 35 with four children, I wouldn’t be able to keep up. I was also worried about the costs involved.
“The Career Transition Fund has given me that extra motivation. It’s not only provided me with the financial ‘push’, but it’s also given me that mental push to go for a complete career change. Seeing how ponies can change a children’s world, and their behaviour, is just amazing.”
The BHS is also working to promote the expanding opportunities that are available across the equine industry.
“Whether our support, guidance and qualifications are being used to develop someone’s skill set, start a career or to take someone’s career to the next level, we are honoured to play a part in people’s equine journey and to be by the side of all those who care as greatly for horses as we do,” James added.
“We recognise how truly important horses are for young people and are determined to make sure that they can continue to benefit from this special companionship. Supporting our future workforce and championing the great opportunities that are available across the industry for people of all abilities and skill sets will be a key, and very critical, part of this.”
To find out more and to support the BHS, visit bhs.org.uk/KeepBritainRiding