The past year has been extremely challenging for all of us, but it has been heart-warming to see the whole equestrian community come together to support one another through such a critical time.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you, our amazing members, supporters, volunteers and equestrian partners for your unwavering support of the BHS and for how you have rallied around to help those across our community who needed it most. In facing the challenges of the past year, we have demonstrated how strong we are when we act as one with the horse at the heart of everything we do.
I’d also like to thank my team here at the BHS who have worked tirelessly in continuing to deliver our charitable aims for the benefit of every horse and the people who care for them.
It is a huge relief to see that we now have a proposed route out of lockdown and together can look forward to a brighter future with the gradual re-opening of riding schools, coaching, and the return of live events.
A brief look back at the last 12 months
Before looking ahead to what we have coming up, I want to briefly reflect on the past year and what we have achieved together. Our aim since last March, and throughout the pandemic, has been to provide as much tangible support as possible to everyone in the equestrian community. This has included financial support, from the waiving of annual fees for our approved centres and payment holidays for our coaches, through to the donations made to our Coronavirus Appeal and funds made available from BHS regional and national activities, and our reserves. We collectively raised over £1 million for the ongoing care of riding school horses and ponies. This was a lifeline to many of our riding schools and enabled them to survive despite the loss of income following enforced closure. It also means they’ll be around for future generations of equestrians, thanks to you. I know how much that means to them and how grateful our riding schools are for that support.
From listening to many of you over the past year, through survey feedback as well as through conversation, we have tried to ensure that we support our community in the most effective ways possible including; providing guidance on Government updates and other useful information in a timely manner on our COVID hub; ensuring our coaches were able to maintain their high standard of training and helping them prepare for the return of group coaching; new virtual training for our dedicated team of volunteers who continued to carry out their work where possible; and working closely to inform and influence government on your behalf through our directorate role on the British Horse Council and through our engagement with DEFRA and national bodies in ALL nations. All of this has been made possible by working with agility as one team and relentlessly pursuing the best outcome for all equestrians. But for me, the standout of the past year has been the strengthened relationships we have developed, and the resilience that has been shown by coming together to act as one community.
So, what can we all now look forward to?
We are very aware from listening and talking to our centres and coaches of the many challenges they continue to face. Our plan for this year is therefore focused on helping the equestrian community to build back business, make riding as accessible as possible as we emerge from lockdown, and to encourage current and new riders along with carriage drivers, to join in with activities and events.
We have also been developing practical ways in which we can help centres and coaches to encourage children to ride and spend more time with horses and ponies. We are hugely excited to announce the upcoming launch of our Junior Challenge Awards – “Pony Stars”. Pony Stars follows the success of our current recreational Challenge Awards aimed at adults and teenagers, and it will be a fun, progressive scheme that provides a ready-made programme centred on getting families back to the great outdoors. We will be introducing Pony Stars to our coaches and centres over the coming weeks and look forward to sharing more information with you soon.
We will also be building on some existing programmes which have proven to be very popular. We have ambitious plans for our Masters Series, giving all our members access to world class trainers and practical instruction which I know thousands of people have been enjoying online. We have also further developed our Changing Lives through Horses programme, already adopted by many of our centres, which aims to transform the lives of young people who, for various reasons, are disengaged or disadvantaged and at risk of becoming excluded from education until they are introduced to the magic of a relationship with horses.
I have no doubt that after a year of lockdown, you will be eager to attend live events and competitions and come together in person to ride or simply to socialise and enjoy being with horses again. Assuming the roadmap out of lockdown continues as planned, we look forward to celebrating the start of our national live events in July, with Royal Windsor Show and the Royal International Show at Hickstead plus other major events to be confirmed in due course. It will also be fantastic to see the return of our summer regional BHS and British Riding Club national competitions across the country, giving everyone the opportunity to compete locally. In the meantime, we encourage all riders and carriage drivers to join our Ride Out UK and Rideathon events to support local riding routes, whilst also enjoying the countryside from Spring through to Autumn.
As well as increasing opportunities to enjoy life with our horses, we will continue to deliver great work across all other areas of our charitable aims. Our Safety team are doing a fantastic job in keeping horses and riders safe on our roads through our Dead Slow campaign and the Highway Code consultation that we have been at the forefront of. Our Welfare team have had a huge impact across multiple campaigns, including our success in educating people about issues like ragwort and colic, and most recently our Be Horse Aware campaign, advising against the random feeding of horses. With your help and the work of hundreds of volunteers, our Access team have now registered more than 1200 applications to record bridleways on the definitive map in England and Wales. As the 2026 deadline for recording public routes comes ever closer, we continue to campaign for an extension to this deadline.
As you can see, COVID-19 has far from delayed our work; quite the opposite, it has accelerated our work and its impact. Together we have made great progress in transforming our Society, and we are excited to build on that as we gradually make a return to normality. We know there is still a tough road ahead, but we are here to support you and are committed to doing whatever we can to make sure that the equestrian community emerges from the pandemic in even stronger shape.