Horse industry needs to 'think local' - researcher

December 27, 2010

The horse industry is missing a trick and needs to do more to help itself at the local level, says a British researcher, who compared the English equine policy network with those in Sweden and The Netherlands.


Dr Georgina Crossman. © Wyn Morgan
The research, titled "The organisational landscape of the English horse industry: a contrast with Sweden and the Netherlands", was carried out this year by Dr Georgina Crossman at the Centre for Rural Policy Research (CRPR), University of Exeter for her PhD.

Policy networks (relationships between interest groups and the government) of the three countries were compared and Dr Crossman found that models within the other two countries show that alignment with government objectives and better awareness of the socio-economic contribution of the horse lead to a more rapid progression of industry priorities.

The British Coalition Government's programme asserts its intention to promote a "radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups" which links in with evidence of locally driven achievements on the continent which could, with this steer from UK government, be used as a template for the UK.

Not only is the contribution horses make to the economy, employment and biodiversity crucial at a local level (permanent pasture being vital to the carbon sink, biodiversity and water quality), priority issues for horse owners such as greater off-road access are more likely to be developed through local links. Several studies carried out in Sweden in 2005 and 2006 reinforced the importance to the Swedish Horse Council of the horse in education and rural development at a regional level.

In Sweden, riding schools and clubs have direct links to local councils, known as municipalities, which help to maintain open access for all riders. The majority of Sweden's leisure horses are kept in farm diversification premises, which could be useful information for UK farm enterprises, as the UK Government recently revealed that it seeks to "radically reform the planning system to give neighbourhoods far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which their inhabitants live".

In the Netherlands, the role the horse plays in diversified farm enterprises achieves substantial recognition and the Central Federation of Horse Traders, split into 11 areas, works at the regional level to raise the profile of the horse industry. The growth in the number of horses in the Netherlands was all the more significant because of the corresponding decline in the number of cattle and sheep. The contribution of this increase in horses to the economy at a regional level led in part to the formation of the Federation of Dutch Horse Entrepreneurs (FNHO) and recognition by government that the horse was becoming more significant socially and economically.

The Dutch horse industry has received minimal assistance from Dutch central government, the majority of funding coming from within the sector. A Dutch industry representative stated "the government should not be involved too much, they have to regulate some things but it is important that the horse industry can manage itself".

Adopting a structured approach across the horse industry, alongside the aligning of its strategy with the Coalition's programme and priorities, are fundamental recommendations emerging from Dr Crossman's PhD.

"I am reassured by the findings of this study which lean strongly towards 'going local'," said British Horse Industry Confederation (BHIC) Chairman Tim Morris. "The BHIC, the BEF and its members, are already focusing their efforts in this direction".

The study was jointly funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the British Equestrian Federation (BEF), the Glanely Trust at the University of Exeter and the Royal Agricultural College (RAC). Additional funding for field trips to Sweden and the Netherlands was provided by the Stapledon Memorial Trust, the British Society for Animal Science (Murray Black Award) and the BEF. The PhD was supervised by Prof Michael Winter (CRPR), Dr Matt Lobley (CRPR) and Rita Walsh (RAC).

Dr Crossman will present her findings to the BEF Council, where all BEF member bodies are represented, during 2011, and will present a summary at the National Equine Forum on March 8, 2011.