(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the livery stables sector
A favourable economic climate during the early and mid 2000s encouraged people to ride and to buy a horse or pony and as a result the equestrian industry experienced strong growth, with the number of horses and ponies increasing considerably. According to the National Equestrian Survey 2006, which was carried out by the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA), at that time there were around 1.35 million horses in Britain. The survey also found that horse owners and riders spent around £4 billion per year on their hobby.
Unfortunately, the economic downturn during the closing years of the 2000s and early 2010s hit many horse-owners hard. According to the British Horse Society (BHS) many horse owners were forced to have their horses put down because they could no longer afford to keep them and many horses and ponies have simply been abandoned, some at livery. Some owners chose a cheaper livery option and did more of the every day horse care themselves. The 2011 BETA Equestrian Survey found that the number of horses and the value of the equestrian market had both fallen since the mid 2000s. This inevitably affected demand for livery stables.
The livery stables market stays broadly in line with the economy as a whole. BETA research showed that the number of horses and riders in 2015 was lower than in 2011. Increasing inflation and a lack of confidence in the economy have put consumers' disposable income under pressure and horse ownership isn't likely to increase strongly until it's clear that the economy has fully returned to growth. Whatever the state of the economy, there are a number of things which need to be taken into account by anyone thinking of offering a livery service:
- the sector is competitive because a lot of farmers have diversified into equestrian activities. Also, riding schools may offer livery services
- consumers are increasingly discerning and will not be prepared to patronise an establishment which does not offer a first class service from well-maintained and secure premises
- the cost of feed can fluctuate significantly and things like a succession of bad winters or falls in the value of the pound can lead to big increases in your costs
It was expected that regulations made under the Animal Welfare Act would require livery stables to be licensed. This requirement was not included, however, so livery stables that simply house and care for other people's horses do not need a licence. They are nevertheless covered by the Animal Welfare Act itself so you will have to make sure that any horses you look after are:
- suitably housed and fed
- protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease
- able to behave normally and naturally
The standards for looking after horses at livery are set out in the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Code of Practice for the Welfare of Horses, Ponies, Donkeys and their Hybrids. You can download the Code of Practice from the NEWC website. If you don't care for the horses properly or you are cruel to them you can be fined or imprisoned and banned from keeping animals in future.
Keeping up to date with developments
Joining an industry association is an excellent way of keeping up with developments.
The British Horse Society (BHS) is the governing body for equestrian activities and is committed to raising standards of horse care and horse business management. The Society produces a number of helpful publications, including Business Management for the Equine Industry. They also operate a BHS Approval Scheme for livery yards which requires certain minimum standards to be met and maintained. Gaining approval indicates to horse owners that their animal will be looked after to a recognised level of horsemastership and this can be a valuable competitive tool.
The BHS is also rolling out a Participation Project nationwide - this involves horse businesses across the country, including livery yards, working with the BHS to offer horse owners theory and practical training courses. Pilot studies have shown that horse owners taking part ride more frequently. The equestrian business benefits from charging a fee for the courses. Contact the BHS at Abbey Park, Stareton, Kenilworth, Warwickshire CV8 2XZ - or visit the BHS website.
Visit the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) website for comprehensive information about all aspects of the horse industry.
The Gov.uk website includes details of the requirement for all horses and ponies to have a horse passport.
Horse and Hound journal, published by Time Inc, contains a wealth of features of interest to the whole equestrian sector.
The British Equestrian Trade Association represents the interests of suppliers to the equestrian industry and also produces a number of useful publications. Contact the Association at Stockeld Park, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS22 4AW.
The Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS) offers membership to livery yards that meet certain criteria. Visit the ABRS website for details.