Industry Eye View
Last time I looked at the anecdotal evidence of a flush of riders re-entering the sport, and seeking a mainly ‘for pleasure’ experience from their riding. This week I speak to some industry professionals about their experience of this trend.
By Katy Willings | Equestrian Writer
First up, vets; are we really seeing such a spike in demand for the solid riding horse?
Absolutely, yes! Although Natalie McGoldrick, who has built up a superb client base around mainly pleasure riders and their horses with her South Coast Equine Vets, reported that in her experience it was a blanket ‘red hot’ market for horses generally. Several of her amateur clients were in the process of upgrading and buying a smarter or competitive horse for the first time, perhaps bucking this trend altogether. Nevertheless, both Natalie and Jeremy Naylor, of Plain Equine Veterinary Clinic, near Salisbury, reported two telling trends. Firstly, they are being inundated with calls to vet horses at very short notice - people are under huge time pressure to view and close the deal on a prospective purchase. “I called back within the hour to a new client wanting a pre-sale examination the next day and had already missed the boat”, remarked Jeremy.
Secondly, the prices being fetched seem incredibly high. As per our featured riders from last week, Tamara and Claire, it’s a case of moving immediately if you like what you see and feel upon meeting the horse, making it a real seller’s market, if you have the right kind of horse.
Jeremy (also a racehorse trainer)
“I have vetted a 16 year old New Forest pony for a 12 year old girl, which sold for £4k.” Sane, experienced and ready to go seems to be commanding a huge premium. He has also seen a recent client divest themselves of a ‘top event prospect’ - “not suitable, not sound, jumping round novices as a five-year-old and still paying the price now”, and invest in a lovely Connemara over from Ireland. It’s a trend he’s pleased to see; what is the value of a horse that is a constant sicknote and requires the constant attention of a professional rider to ‘straighten out’?
Tor Fenwick and horses
Hampshire dressage rider and producer Tor Fenwick has certainly seen a shift in people’s criteria for purchase, with rideability and versatility moving up the order. Not, in her experience, at the expense of raw talent however. “I’m getting asked “will he go Grand Prix” a little less often, but still they want “he’ll go medium, and event a bit, and hack out”...talented allrounders are the hottest market, certainly”.
Meeting the needs of the amateur rider; livery yards and lifestyle
Natalie confirmed that a large proportion of her clients kept their horses at livery. It’s a key part of why Claire was able to get back in the saddle, as a working mum, and clearly a keystone in the leisure horse economy. So how is it doing? I spoke to Pip Acton who started a livery business in Coulston in March, just a couple of weeks pre-lockdown. Not an auspicious time to kick off, you’d have thought? Quite the opposite, as it turns out. “I have five out at grass and ten stabled, and a queue of people wanting to board. I am getting several calls a month from owner riders looking to find livery for their horses."
I asked her about the make-up of her equine residents and their humans, and she is indeed seeing a greater proportion of fun riders, and people enjoying riding club and unaffiliated level competitions, more for the social aspect than for any particular championship aspirations. A mum and daughter kept their horses with her, and they were on the lookout for a suitable mount for dad too. “They come to the yard on the weekend and just enjoy being out and about with their horses, spending time as a family."
We also touched on who took the lead on the care of these horses - was she at all worried about an influx of ‘new’ riders, with no prior experience of horse management? The opposite - ”I see sensible people seeking professional help. The industry needs to welcome new people, and lose its snobby image. People go out and buy a puppy, and keep it in their house, with no experience and no help.” In a well-run livery yard, with good facilities and high standards of care, new owners can flourish and so can their horses. “The more the merrier.” Catering for this market could clearly be a lucrative business; not just horses, but services too. Being a ‘best in class’ livery yard - including using a Haygain steamer to ensure high quality forage, of course - might become the most important influence for a whole new class of equestrians, who aren’t trying to emulate the champions, but simply enjoy their riding.
Using a Haygain steamer safeguards your horse’s respiratory and digestive health; your horse will likely find steamed hay more palatable; he’ll be better hydrated, year round; and the air quality in the yard generally will be higher. Where large volumes of forage are being handled and distributed, and stabled horses may get limited water changes in a day, these are huge welfare gains - not just for performance horses, but for all horses!