Australia’s riders part of a billion-dollar industry, but change seen as essential to build sport

Equestrian sport contributes $A1.135 billion each year to the Australian economy, a community impact study has found.

The figure excludes all codes of horse racing, polo, polocrosse, rodeo, western and tent pegging.

The equestrian community in Australia spends $A371 million each year on the maintenance and transport of their horses, it was found.

Equestrian sport’s governing body, Equestrian Australia, in partnership with all state branches, commissioned Sports Business Partners and Street Ryan to carry out the study.

The main objective of obtaining the report – the first of its kind commissioned by Equestrian Australia – was to determine the contribution of equestrian activities to the broader community within Australia, focusing on economic, social and health benefits.

The economic contribution was assessed at $A1.135 billion, whilst the annual contribution to physical and mental health was an additional $A12.724 million.

Key findings were based on data from a wide range of sources, including the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Sports Commission and the Australian Government Department of Health.

Information was also collected from a broad cross-section of people in the equestrian community, including an online survey of more than 4500 individuals.

Equestrian Australia’s chief executive, Paula Ward, said the findings confirmed equestrian pursuits as one of Australian sport’s top contributors to the national economy.

“We now have a better understanding of the sport, the wider landscape, our members, and where we need to go in the long term.”

The study determined that equestrian sports had a range of unique social strengths not offered by other sports, including lifelong participation opportunities and a structured, disciplined and selfless mindset.

The major point of difference equestrian pursuits had from other sports was the responsibility that went with the management and care of horses. This required commitment, discipline and purpose.

Seventy-six percent of Equestrian Australia members said they were involved in the sport “for the love of the horse”. Further, 75% of members were involved in the sport more than four times per week and 78% had been participating for more than a decade. This showed significant commitment.

Equestrianism also offered a healthy outdoor lifestyle and was, for many people, a recreational outlet that led to personal purpose and fulfilment.

Ward continued: “Riding horses or even just being around these magnificent animals is a very fulfilling experience and men and women across all ages enjoy tremendous health benefits as a result.”

She said it was heartening to see the positive impact that equestrian pursuits had on the mental and physical health of Australians.

Equestrian Australia expected to put in place a range of strategic initiatives over the coming months, focused on growth and development of the sport. “There is so much scope to build the foundations of our sport and increase its profile nationally and internationally.”

Ward said a new four-year strategic plan would help drive inclusion and development at a grass-roots level, and ultimately build success at the pinnacle of competition across all disciplines.

Key findings from the reports highlighted several strategic challenges. Equestrian sport in Australia is governed by a complex hierarchy of more than 50 state and national committees and boards. In addition, there are many volunteers within the sport who enable the sport to run. There are more than 9000 active volunteers who contribute nearly 50,000 volunteer hours to the sport in a typical week.

Despite the strength of the volunteer backbone of the sport over the past 50 years, there are some concerns about the next generation of officials, event organisers and future leaders of the sport, and where they are coming from.

It has been identified that the current governance structure needed to be reviewed as the lack of alignment of rules, systems, processes and procedures restricted the sport’s ability to grow and prosper.

There is a need to be able to seek and attract national commercial partners, establish clear national pathways to develop talented athletes, coaches and officials, communicate better with members and participants and promote the sport to the general public.

Horse sport was not completely unique in this area, Equestrian Australia said, with other governing bodies such as athletics, gymnastics, motor sport, skiing and snowboarding facing similar challenges.

Overwhelming feedback received from participants in the online survey highlighted a desire for change to the current governance structure and for administrations to work together better. Equestrian Australia was now making changes it believed would benefit members.

For the sport to grow its public following, it was concluded that Equestrian Australia must more regularly and efficiently share news and event information from a diverse and complex national events structure. To achieve this, event organisers and athletes, as well as state branches and the national body must work collectively.

This would enable the governing body to expand communication beyond existing fans to reach new audiences.

It said a transitioning was under way for the introduction of a national commercial model which it hoped would deliver long-term sustainable commercial support for the sport and its events.

Equestrian Australia said there was a distinct need to grow the sport and offer pathways for new riders of any age and background. The social, physical and mental benefits of equestrian pursuits could be promoted to draw more participants.

It acknowledged that the Australian sporting market was becoming increasingly competitive, with every organisation looking for an edge to attract new participants, volunteers, commercial partnerships, government funding and talented athletes.

In addition, the Australian Sports Commission declared its intention to improve the governance systems and operational efficiencies within the sector. Sports funded by the commission will be required to meet elevating standards in these areas to remain eligible for funding.

The general sentiment was that despite the diversity of equestrian disciplines and overall participation levels that rise and fall with economic cycles, the sport has been stagnant for some time.

Now, it said, was a critical time for change. It said it was working hard with many stakeholders to make changes to benefit everyone in the equestrian community and grow the sport.

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