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Gloucestershire Business News

EXCLUSIVE: Counting the cost of horse play

An iconic facet of Gloucestershire's economy is looking increasingly under threat as equine businesses report increasing financial pressures.

While soaring energy costs and a rise in the value of horses and ponies after a post-pandemic shortage of equines combine with feed price escalation, riding schools are finding that potential customers for livery may be in danger of becoming scarce as increased mortgage costs and inflation lead potential clients to rein in their dreams of regular days out hacking Cotswold lanes and byways.

One livery yard in the north of England told Horse and Hound magazine this week that despite their yard now charging from £130 to £180 per week for livery, profit had been scorched by a quarterly energy bill that had risen from £7,000 a quarter to £19,000. 

Given staffing, forage, maintenance, feed, insurance and rates, the business owner reported: "there is not a lot left".

However, Georgina Pearce, who has owned and run Woodland Barn Livery and Rehabilitation near Cirencester since 2016, said that there were signs for optimism in the industry.

Ms Pearce said: "What happened in the Pandemic with horses was a parallel to the dog thing: everyone got one because it was outdoor activity."

Consequently, prices rose for horses and ponies but, she said, sale prices were now beginning to return to their previous levels.

Ms Pearce currently accommodates 15 horses and her yard, which she initially ran solo, now creates two part-time jobs.

"The most noticeable challenge for me has been feed prices. Typically, we have seen a big bale of hay go up from £35 to £50."

Having begun riding at the age of two, she spent some early career years in aviation work at Kemble, but her first love made an equine career the natural choice.

She said: "I work every day of the week, I live here and I think the way through the current business challenge is to build a good reputation and to rely upon word of mouth. I am looking to put up my prices, which vary to specific needs of all the many types of horses here, but my clients are staying."

Brian Sinnett, now 77 and still teaching horsemanship and Western style riding, told Punchline that the chief challenge to the equine sector in Gloucestershire was not so much the economic landscape as increasing bureaucracy and legislation.

Mr Sinnett, who runs Noverton Farm, near Prestbury, said: "New rules for riding establishments are the biggest concern.

"We have to jump through hoop after hoop. In the economic challenge, as a farm, we can keep some control over many costs including feed - but our biggest concern is people with clipboards."

Echoing his sentiment, Berkeley-based land agent, Gerald Spencer, told Punchline: "It's a tough time for anyone in this sector with spiralling costs at every turn. As well as hay, straw and fodder presures, typically, it costs around £80 for a new set of shoes and while vet bills can be ringfenced by insurance, premiums are rising, too.

"For any equine landholder, it is also not the case that they could easily cash in by seeking another use for the land."

● Equine charity the British Horse Society has voiced broad concern that the cost-of-living crisis is hitting riding schools and livery yards "particularly hard". Since 2018, it says it has seen 250 riding schools close across the UK. The charity is in direct contact with BHS-approved centres to offer one-to-one advice and support. To date, it has supported more than 350 riding schools.

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