Equine tourism could be saviour for rare breeds

The use of native breeds in equine tourism in the Nordic region has been explored in a new guide for tourism operators.
The use of native breeds in equine tourism in the Nordic region has been explored in a new guide for tourism operators. © Herdis Reynisdottir

Equine tour operators in the Nordic regions are being encouraged to use rare and endangered native horse breeds in their businesses, to offer an authentic experience for tourists.

The authors of a new guide for equine tourism operators found that horse tourism using native breeds was less developed than the general sector, with operators usually employing a range of breeds, not just the local native breed (except in Iceland). It looked at native breeds across a range of scales, from the Icelandic horse which has a worldwide range and growing numbers, to the Faroese pony which is endangered. At the time the project started, only 69 horses remain.

Faroe Ponies on the Faroe Islands.
Faroe Ponies on the Faroe Islands.  © Maria Joensen. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons

Native breeds used in Nordic equine tourism also included the Fjord horse and the Nordlands/Lyngshest.

“One of the key motivations for the research is helping to provide an economic imperative to support the breeding of these special horse breeds,” said lead author Dr Rhys Evans.

“In the Faroese case, models of ‘endangered species tourism’ were proposed, and support was offered to the community of Faroese ponies to support their growing efforts to preserve and enhance the breed.”

Nevertheless, although the appeal of, for example, riding a Fjordhest in the Fjord region is discussed in the new guide, the emphasis is primarily on building sound and financially sustainable horse tourism businesses across all breeds and all regions.

Evans, of the Hogskulen for landbruk og bygdeutvikling (HLB), wrote the 96-page Good Practice Guide to Equine Tourism with Dr Gudrun Helgadottir and Ingibjörg Sigurðardóttir of Holar University College in Iceland.

The guide has been published by the Riding Nordic Native Breeds project, and funded by the North Atlantic Opportunities (NORA) Fund. A parallel project funded by the Counties of Nordland and Troms looked at tour operators in the north of Norway.

It is available in English for free download from the website of the Hogskulen for landbruk og bygdeutvikling (HLB).

The project worked with industry representatives and horse tourism operators who were invited to share their knowledge at a set of meetings in each location. That knowledge was collated and then communicated in public meetings in the same locations in the final year of the project. From this, and other research, the Good Practice Guide to Equine Tourism was created.

“There is very little published on equine tourism in the Nordic region, so the Guide represents a vital intervention in strengthening the sector, sharing knowledge and offering suggestions for improved practice across the business of horse tourism,” Evans said.

“One of the key findings of the project is that the breadth, depth and extent of horse knowledge is so large that it can dominate operators’ own knowledge in their business, leaving them to struggle with finding knowledge about the professional operation of a tourism business.”

Dr Rhys Evans
Dr Rhys Evans

Evans said it became clear that many operators would benefit from collaborating with tourism professionals to help them establish quality assurance schemes, customer satisfaction standards and improved marketing of their operation.

“As a result, the Good Practice Guide contains a strong focus on operating a horse tourism business, with advice and suggestions about a wide range of issues from improving communication with customers, to managing staff. As such, it offers horse tourism entrepreneurs a single source of information about the business side of the sector.”

The guide also offered a new, wider definition of what activities can be included in the definition of ‘horse tourism’,including innovative examples such a Winter or Arctic riding tourism; Festival tourism which includes horses, and a range of other activities.  The guide offers examples of the wide variety of horse tourism services which were encountered in the project.

Another finding in the project is that many businesses are operating on their own, suggesting that the formation of an international network of equine tourism businesses would bring benefits in terms of improved marketing, the sharing of news and innovation, and would provide new opportunities to innovate in a market that clearly is ready to grow.

The Good Practice Guide to Equine Tourism offers those already in business opportunities to further professionalise their practice, and offers inspiration to those who wish to join the sector. It would not have been possible without the help and support of many in the industry and is dedicated to all those who contributed their knowledge and expertise.  The authors hope that it contributes to building a stronger and more successful equine tourism sector across the Nordic region.

Download the guide

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