Wednesday, 10 November 2010

London Horse Network Meeting 2: What's more likely, making The Equestrian British Team or Space Shuttle Mission...

The cold and the wet and the worries are making me feel a little under the weather but nevertheless I set off to the second meeting of London Horse Network organised by Hoof Ride London and BEF.

Every meeting is in a different London Centre. First one was at Mudchute Equestrian Centre and if you haven't already you can read my little report from it HERE.

Today the host was Vauxall City Farm, a unique miniature riding centre and a farm situated about 5 minutes walk from Vauxall Tube Station. I got totally lost under all the bridges outside the station before I realised the Farm was almost right in front of me ;)

Outdoor arena with an interesting background of London architecture...

The Aim of today's meeting was:

Find out how to make a successful application for funding. Introduction of the London Horse Network Capital Investment Awards

The main reason I decided to attend the meetings in the first place was to find out how to help one of my centres with organisation of the funds for building a cover over the outdoor arena. The business suffers a lot in winter months and any form of covered school would allow the centre to continue their lessons but the costs are enormous.
So that's one reason. I have very quickly, however, realised that the meetings will help me personally to understand the UK horse industry better from a business side of view. My passion is training and getting people involved in the Sport but I am very aware that the passion alone is not going to take my Academy project where I want it to be.
I was born in a second largest city in Poland, then went to University in the capital so I can relate to the problems London horse people face. It was (and is!) a grand struggle for me to pursue my hobby, sport and career, not only financially but logistically too.
The Academy came to life because my aim has always been to make quality training available to anybody who wanted to get involved with the sport. I now want to learn more about How The Hell to make it all work in the real world!

I am telling you all this so you can understand why today's meeting had a different impact on me than the previous one. Some ramblings below:

The guest today was Ros Spearing, the director of Ebony Horse Club, the club that won the FEI Development Award and is now able to build a £1.7m riding centre for children and young people in deprived areas of Brixton, South London.
Listening to her talking about 14 years of struggle, commitment and determination made me think you would be hard pushed to find many people as driven as Ros is.

At the end, whilst discussing difficulties most of us face within the Sport she said: it is the kids have more chances to end up on a Space Shuttle than on a British [Equestrian] Team...

To me, this simple statement summarises all the frustrations that come with wanting to "do horses" as a Sport. Perhaps even with simply riding for recreation.
Ros is doing some amazing things bringing horses to young people who otherwise can't even dream of sitting in the saddle.

But what about everybody else...those who perhaps can afford regular weekly lessons but not necessarily a more frequent sports training or an own horse to compete? What about those who perhaps don't want to drop out of school at 15 to become working pupils but want to continue their involvement in the Sport? How and Where can they get more affordable, quality training, decent on-going development plan, mentoring and coaching help?

As a 13 year old kid I trained athletics and I rode at a local riding school. My Athletics Club had some good facilities, coaching programme, competition schedule, transport for all the kids and all trainings (3-4 times a week) included in a yearly fee of something like £20. My riding school, needless to say, had nothing of the above. Luckily for me, I later ended up at a Stallion Depot that was Government funded, the training was affordable and small Club membership fee came with many perks. That was in 1996. What about now?

Yes, it is more expensive to maintain a riding horse than a pair of running shoes but as it was discussed at the meeting today, part of the problem is that the riding as a sport is portrayed as elitist and available only to wealthy individuals. Media run documentaries showing shiny people on shinier horses. And yet, as Ros mentioned today, there are many people out there keeping their horses on DIY livery, going on holidays once in 4 years (if that) and quietly chiseling away at their hobby.

There are estimated 2.4 million people in the UK who ride regularly...doesn't seem that elitist to me...

As it was identified at the meeting, it's great to hear about British Teams winning medals but it is the Grassroots level that needs much more support and recognition as well as true portrait in media. Perhaps no TV crew wants to film those enthusiastic groups of people who, after full day of work, jump into their jodphurs and hundreds layers, trail through the muddy fields in the dark to fetch their horses in, scrape the dirt and off they ride in the driving rain and bitter wind...

The afternoon was spent on going through an Application Form for Capital Funding. Some very useful comments and advice. Sadly, the fund available is nowhere near the amount needed for a cover of the arena. It also looks like that's that as far as Capital Funds are concerned too...Disappointing but still think the Network is doing a great job to organise any funding at all.

Apparently there are many people in the industry who ask Why Ebony Club? Why did they get the funding to build a new centre from scratch? Wouldn't it be better if an existing establishment received the funds to build on the facilities already in place?

Ebony Club brought some life changing opportunities to the kids who might have otherwise ended up in gangs, murdered or in prison. They are as far from elitist as you can get.
I really hope that the Centre will become a great success and with many other fab London charities take the Equestrian Sports one step closer to a level where it can be enjoyed by all. In a quality way.

There was a moment though where I thought, right, I shouldn't be here. I shouldn't be trying to find a way to increase participation and quality of experiences among riders who don't face being murdered next day, whose families aren't in prison or who have no food on tables and no immediate income crisis!

This is why I also hope that there will be more opportunities available from BEF, Sport England, UK Sport or whoever else distributes the money into horses so that the riding establishments, clubs and coaches can nurture the talents and enjoyment of an average rider, an average school kid or an adult with a passion for riding.

Next meeting is to be focused on Training. Looking forward to it.



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