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The spoga horse Country Check (14): Great Britain

There is probably no other country in Europe that has more equestrian retail stores than the UK. And there is a reason for that. Great Britain is the home to horse racing. English Thoroughbreds are considered to be the fastest (and most expensive) race horses in the world. One simply cannot imagine Great Britain without its wealth of horses - from top performance horses down to small family ponies. Horses are an essential part of the British heritage. About five per cent of the British (more than three million) ride a horse at least once a year. And the head of state is leading the way! Aged 90 years, Queen Elizabeth II still spends time in the saddle.

Please note: These are partially abridged versions of the articles originally published in the trade magazine "ReitsportBRANCHE" by Sebastian Reichert. If you are interested in the complete publications, you can order the Country Check series at info@reitsport-branche.com .

The British Royal Guard on Horseback, Photocredit: Annie Spratt, Unsplash

The British Royal Guard on Horseback, Photocredit: Annie Spratt, Unsplash

In part 5 of our “Country Check” series we are drawing a portrait of Great Britain and its equestrian trade sector.

“Great Britain has a long and illustrious equestrian history,” says Deborah Hayward, press spokeswoman of the British trade fair BETA International. “All Thoroughbreds can be traced back to the same three Arab stallions. Horses play a key role in leisure, sports and commercial activities.” “Riding and particularly hunting has been a sport of our landed gentry for centuries,” Malcolm Ainge, chairman of the executive board of the British company Shires Equestrian Products, adds. And Simon Middleton, managing director of Zebra Products, says: “Horse racing is also known as the ‘Sport of Kings’. It is tightly intertwined with the Monarchy.”

Queen Elizabeth II in a carriage during the opening of Parliament, Photocredit: Annie Spratt, Unsplash

Queen Elizabeth II in a carriage during the opening of Parliament, Photocredit: Annie Spratt, Unsplash

Europe's largest island state

With around 66.5 million inhabitants, Great Britain (correct full name: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is the second most populous European state behind Germany and, according to the latest figures, just ahead of France, and the largest island state in Europe. The nuclear power, which is located on the British Isles off the north-west coast of continental Europe, is a union consisting of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. At a referendum in June 2016, 51.8 per cent of the electorate voted for a withdrawal from the European Union ("Brexit"). Experts expect the UK to actually leave the EU in March 2019.

The south coast of England with its beautiful landscape, Photocredit: Jose Llamas, Unsplash

The south coast of England with its beautiful landscape, Photocredit: Jose Llamas, Unsplash

British Equestrian Federation

The umbrella organisation for all equestrians is the British Equestrian Federation (BEF), which was founded in 1925. The federation is composed of 19 equestrian sports organisations (and not individuals), including, for example, British Dressage (BD), British Eventing (BE), British Show Jumping (BS) and The Pony Club (PCUK), but also the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA). Of the 19 BEF organisations, the British Horse Society (BHS) has the largest membership, i.e. 91,000. The Pony Club is an international youth charity organisation founded in 1929. It has about 30,000 members, operates 345 branches and 480 centres in the UK and thus is the world's largest youth riding organisation, according to the Club.

Women wear the breeches

Unlike in Germany, riders do not have to be a member of the umbrella association or its organisations to participate in competitions, BETA told Reitsport BRANCHE. According to its own statement, the British national association represents the interests of about 210,000 riders or equestrian sports enthusiasts. However, there are much more people mounting a horse in Great Britain: 4.3 per cents of the Brits are stating they ride at least once a year. According to BETA ("National Equestrian survey”), the number of regular riders decreased by 300,000 within four years from 1.6 million in 2011.

74 per cent (i.e. 962,000) of the current total of 1.3 million Brits riding regularly are female. Only netball - a basket ball game without body contact - has a larger share of women in the country. 300,000 women even ride at least once a week. Almost nine times as many women as men ride on a weekly basis.

Warwick Castle, War of the Roses 2019, Photocredit: Fas Khan, Unsplash

Warwick Castle, War of the Roses 2019, Photocredit: Fas Khan, Unsplash

Horse racing - a royal thrill

At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, the Equestrian Team GBR won two gold medals and one silver medal. The Paralympic riders even managed to gain eleven medals. At the 2012 Games on London home ground it was especially the teams that stood out: silver for the eventing riders, gold for the dressage and show jumping riders. In addition, Charlotte Dujardin and Laura Bechtolsheimer gained gold and bronze medals in the individual dressage tests.

Despite not being Olympic, horse racing is the sport in Britain with the most spectators after football, according to the BHS. Four of the ten most popular sports events in 2012 (with the exception of the Olympic Games) were horse races. That year, 5.5 billion people went to see the races. “I know the thrills participating as a race horse owner entails,” Queen Elizabeth II said on the occasion of opening the traditional Royal Ascot horse race at the famous course near Windsor in 2015. The top-ten show jumping events are visited by more than 1.2 million people every year.

Horse racing - a spectacle

Horse racing has always been and will always be the number one equestrian sport, though. All over the country, there are 62 race courses attracting about six million visitors per year. The most famous race is probably the Grand National at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool. And the most famous breeder of race horses is the Queen. Indeed, her thoroughbreds win quite a lot of prizes.

In 2012, the British horse racing sector generated about 4 billion euros (with a tax amount of 324 million euros). According to BETA, Great Britain’s entire equestrian industry is currently estimated at approximately 7 billion euros per year. This includes 3.8 billion euros from the leisure and sports market as well as 3.2 billion euros from horse racing. People spend about 3.3 billion euros per year for the maintenance of their horses - 3700 euros per horse. Other indirect consumer spending connected to equestrian activities is estimated at 642 million euros.

Traditional horse race in England, Photocredit: James Anthony, Pexels

Traditional horse race in England, Photocredit: James Anthony, Pexels

Specialist trade - independent retailers

In 2012, about 85,000 people lived on a job directly or indirectly related to horse racing. In total, 250,000 people are directly or indirectly employed in the equestrian industry. There are about 2800 blacksmiths working in the UK, for example - about the same number of people work in this profession in Germany. The British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) represents more than 800 member companies. They include about 400 retail shops but also wholesalers, manufacturers, representatives and many service companies.

“The main characteristic of the British equestrian specialist trade is the number of independent retailers," says Malcolm Ainge of Shires Equestrian Products. According to BETA estimates, there are about 2600 equestrian retail shops in total. Alongside the retailers there are several chains, some of which have developed out of agricultural cooperatives, including “Countrywide Farmers”, “Country Store” and “Mole Valley Farmers”. In their up to 50 branches, equestrian equipment accounts for a main part of the product range.

Leather: main production area in Walsall

A focal point of the international leather production is the 170,000-inhabitant city of Walsall, situated about 20 km north of Birmingham in an up-country location. Currently, there are still about 40 companies manufacturing riding saddles and bridles, including Fairfax, County, Exselle, Albion, Kent, Thorowgood and King's, among others. “Historically, Walsall is where many of our tanneries were based,” Hayward explains.

Shows and competitions: watch and shop

“In England, shopping at the major shows tends to have a greater importance than in Germany,” says Dennis Brömlage of Schockemöhle Sports. “Maybe the British have a slightly different mentality regarding their shopping behaviour. The shows are real happenings. The spectators watch the competitions and afterwards, they go shopping. In Germany, people at shows tend to focus more on the sport.” For Schockemöhle Sports, Great Britain has become a very important market in the past five, six years. “It is the most important market in Europe for Schockemöhle Sports apart from Germany.”

In 2017, 3500 visitors came to the British three-day trade fair at Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (NEC) with 300 exhibitors, according to the organisers. The spoga horse spring, on the other hand, counted 3700 trade visitors and 184 exhibitors. “BETA has a more national character,” Brömlage says. “It is predominantly a platform for the English market.”

The British market - in for a surprise

And how are the trade relations with Germany going to develop in the wake of Great Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, which is expected to begin at the end of March 2017? “Apart from the British pound losing in value, which for us has advantages as well, nothing has happened yet,” Brömlage says. “There is no major impact to be noticed yet, although there is a psychological element, of course. Regarding its future importance for us, the British market is indeed a bit of a surprise package. The Brexit certainly holds the risk of new trade barriers. And that would have negative consequences for both sides.”