THE manager of a riding school used by people with disabilities fears for their wellbeing in lockdown and says the restrictions are causing a “major horse welfare issue.”

Chelsea Gardner, yard manager at Cliffhollins Riding School in East Bierley, says horse riding tuition is done with social distancing, and is safer than using a garden centre. She’s calling for lockdown laws to be altered and has contacted Batley and Spen MP Tracy Babin about her fears for riding schools and horses in the pandemic.

Said Chelsea: “Cliffhollins is a family-run business, established for 15 years. We’re a British Horse Society (BHS), Pony Club and Riding for the Disabled (RDA) accredited centre and we have 20 horses. This third lockdown has hit us hard, due to having no income to keep up to the horses’ needs in the winter months. In previous lockdowns it was less severe, as in spring and summer horses can live in fields and require less food and exercise. In winter it’s necessary for horses to be stabled; requiring supplementary feeding and regular exercise.

“We run a programme through the BHS, Changing Lives, providing alternate education provision for young people who are vulnerable and disengaged. Lockdown has caused riding schools to once again close, despite the fact that tuition is at a social distance. There’s always a two-metre distance anyway, as horses can kick out. It’s far safer than visiting garden centres, which are allowed to open.

“For regular riders their weekly visit to the riding school is critical to their mental wellbeing, as well as being a recognised form of physical exercise. Many young people who use our school are vulnerable. If children and young people are vulnerable or have key worker parents they can go to school, so why not here? We want clearer guidance. For a lot of school groups, coming here is the only time they get out.”

Chelsea fears lockdown is having a significant impact on horse welfare. “I can’t work all 20 horses to the level they need. Without regular exercise horses deteriorate and when they’re stabled they’re not socialising. Are they going to be fit enough when we re-open?

“Many riding school horses will suffer in this lockdown. British Riding Schools are the backbone of equestrian activities in the UK and the starting point for many elite Olympic riders. If we lose our riding schools we take away the foundation of our national success. The equine industry’s voice needs to be heard. It is vital that legislation is altered in the very near future if we’re to avoid a major welfare issue and protect the future of our global reputation.”