To Ride or Not to Ride, that is the Question.

Arabella Barnes

Horse riders and livery owners across the UK are struggling to determine the best way to manage their horses during this unpredictable time. There is no clear idea as to how long this may go on for and whether further precautionary measures will be taken to help protect our country. All that can be done for now is for each person to manage their own situations to the best of their abilities until we are given more guidance.

Due to the Coronavirus, people are unsure whether riding is sensible for fear of putting even more strain on the NHS. Some believe that if you are responsible with your horse and wear the correct safety equipment, that you will minimise the risk of an accident and be able to continue doing what you love.
“A fit horse can be a handful on the ground if they are let down too quickly, which is upping the chance of an accident on the ground, it’s about being responsible and maintaining a level of normality where possible.” says Sally, who has a horse on DIY livery in Hampshire. However, others believe that riding should be completely out of the question, claiming that it is selfish to put yourself at risk and the NHS under even more pressure.

Chloe, who owns a private dressage yard made the decision to stop her liveries from coming onto her yard, to prevent the virus being spread. “If I can’t work, or my groom can’t work it will drastically affect my business and the horse’s welfare. If self-isolation is necessary, then these precautions will be taken with the plan to go straight back to normality, in a reasonable way. If we had four-year-olds these would be turned away just to reduce the risk for a certain period of time” says Chloe. For larger yards with more people coming and going, she feels that different measures should be taken, more so to prevent the spread of the virus. Chloe explains how the management to stop the virus spreading should be no different to the measures taken to stop Strangles. As a business owner and manager, she believes it is important to make the decision on behalf of horse owners to ensure that her yard is taking fair measures to help reduce the risk and spread. “I feel that there is currently limited information given by governing bodies advising horse owners and businesses how best to tackle the problem. There are many different equestrian governing bodies all sharing slightly different information which also makes it difficult to know whose guidelines to follow” explains Chloe.

Similarly, Alice locked down her yard the Wednesday before Borris called for it as there were four reported cases of the virus already in her local village. As a result she stopped non essential staff from coming to the farm to work, leaving just Alice and her full time groom Tess, who lives on site, to care for all the horses.

Alice is a five-star eventer and the Senior Master of the Surrey Union Hunt. She currently has twenty-six horses on her home farm in Surrey, ranging from broodmares, retired horses and youngstock, Normally Alice would have 10 – 12 horses in full work but now only has six in work with the others on holiday. “I currently have my two advanced horses and four young home-breds in work. They are only being ridden by myself, mainly in the school and I stay off the roads. These horses are not known for being naughty, so I don’t consider them to put me at risk. If I had a worry about sitting on a horse, I wouldn’t ride it. If the government called for riding to stop I would turn three away and keep three ticking over on the lunge, if allowed” says Alice.

Alice is doing what she can to mediate risk and as a professional rider she is able to look at her horses and determine whether it is safe to ride them or not. She suggests that riders look at their own track record and history to determine how often they fall off. “If you fall off more than once a month it’s probably best not to ride” says Alice.

Each individual needs to look at their own ability and how naughty their horse is and come to their own conclusion. “Yes, any horse can slip or stumble, and anyone can fall off at any point, but there are horses which are a higher risk to ride than others” says Alice.

Many like Alice are continuing to ride, however limiting their riding to the facilities that are on their site, be it around fields or in the arena. The common theme is that many are continuing to ride but limiting the risks and sticking to the fundamentals by focusing on certain training that would normally get neglected. Some feel that it is important for their mental health to maintain a level of normality and others believe that for each person and each horse what they do during this crisis is the best solution they have to see it through. Others however feel that regardless of how careful you are, it’s still not worth risking putting the additional strain on the NHS, when it just isn’t needed. 

In this time of crisis, we can only do our best to keep things as normal as possible and try not to put ourselves in a position where accidents may occur and do our best to help get the country back on its feet.

Thank you to all the riders that very kindly took time to contribute to this article, stay safe x

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