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Equestrianism has evolved over several centuries through use of the horse in military, transport, agricultural, hunting and sport. Partitioning of the countryside by hedgerows, lanes and bridleways is a legacy of the once central role of the horse. Although agricultural mechanisation removed the need for horses, horse based activities have remained an integral part of rural life. Over the past century, various equestrian sporting disciplines have developed to become national and international competitive sports. Hunting has also preserved various aspects of rural heritage, tradition and social networks.
With rising disposable income in recent decades, horse riding has grown as a recreational and social activity, creating a growing market for equestrian services, such as riding lessons and livery, along with manufacture of equestrian equipment and related goods. This growth has also promoted wider participation in the competitive sport disciplines, enabling those with sufficient talent and commitment to rise through the ranks to national and international levels. This is supported by Sport England and UK Sport World Class Programmes and funding delivered through the British Equestrian Federation. In both Sport England and UK Sport, equestrianism has a relatively high profile, being one of Sport England’s 20 Priority Sports and being a Priority 2 sport within UK Sport. Sport England and UK Sport also build on the work of the Riding for the Disabled Association, recognising the therapeutic value of horse riding and supporting the training of several disabled riders competing at international level.
Equestrianism in the East Midlands and elsewhere encompasses a wide spectrum of traditional and modern activity. This is enabled by farmers, landowners and local authorities who support a substantial physical infrastructure as well as by various service providers and manufacturers, the majority being SMEs and micro businesses. Especially in the provision of services, such as the activities of riding schools and liveries, many businesses have been developed to satisfy local demand and to support proprietors’ participation in various equestrian activities.
Recreational and commercial equestrian activities link into many other sectors, including the rural and manufacturing economies, the wider leisure industry and higher education.
There are also key links with government policies on sport and recreation. In particular:
Equestrianism now has significant capacity for growth, especially through encouraging the adoption of best practice and innovation. However, the equestrian industry is frequently not acknowledged as a stakeholder in policy decisions because it does not have a coherent structure and clear identity. A cohesive equestrian sector should be recognised by other organisations, eg DEFRA, the insurance industry, as an active partner.
Fig.1 interprets these themes in the context of the East Midlands, relating equestrianism to a number of regional strategies and studies.
Fig.1 Relationships between equestrianism and key initiatives at regional level
The equestrian infrastructure in the East Midlands (and the UK) is highly fragmented. This situation has come about more through the participation of individuals in the evolution of heritage rather than its wider or higher level planned or engineered development. Individual initiative is a fundamental driver of fragmentation in modern equestrianism with many businesses, especially freelance instructors/trainers, riding schools and liveries, existing to support personal involvement with horses. An important aspect of this involvement has been the creation of businesses that enable proprietors to participate in equestrian sport. A consequence of this is that many aspects of equestrian sport are enabled through localised commercial enterprise.
Whilst this powerful interest is recognised as an important driver for the existence of equestrian enterprise, it is not generally considered to be a strong influence on its economic performance. From the “outsider” perspective of policy makers and strategic partners, it may be important to acknowledge that many businesses are not seeking to maximise their profits. While this aspect of business practice would benefit from further analysis, the “satisficing” behaviour and organisational culture of many equestrian businesses may act as a brake on their willingness to adopt best practice and innovation.
The largest business activities reported in the survey are competition training for both riders and horses, livery provision and provision of both freelance and riding school based recreational instruction. There is a sharp contrast between these areas of the sector and the low level of equestrian related manufacture in the region. Diversity, engagement with other economic sectors and the small scale of commercial initiatives characterise a diffuse industry that is partly driven by a committed interest in growing horse-related business activities.
Some connections do exist between stakeholders within equestrianism, typically resulting from their involvement in various types of competition, such as dressage or show jumping, etc. While traditionally competitive, these equine-related connections are maintained through the national governing bodies of the equestrian disciplines. For this reason, the powerful dynamic of clustering, in which economically linked businesses work as a team for their common good, plays no significant role in parts of the sector’s current overall economic performance. While many activities of trainers are shaped by the disciplines’ focus on competition. The business potential of riding schools and equestrian businesses such as tack shops is dependent upon the overall level of participation in equestrian activities and associated levels of demand. Seen by some as important for the formation of skills and competitive training of both horses and riders, hunting as a countryside activity relies on wider links with the rural infrastructure. Here, connections are sustained with agriculture, and these in turn interact with the recreational needs of equestrianism and other user groups.
The wider institutional context of equestrianism in the East Midlands is exemplified in fig.2, which shows a number of relevant stakeholder organisations & groups and their connectivity. Although fig.2 does not include all associated stakeholder organisations, it adds to fig.1, drawing together those who were particularly relevant to the survey. Key points concerning fig.2 are:
Fig.2 Key elements of the wider stakeholder network in which equestrianism operates.