The coronavirus pandemic continues to impact on all areas of life in the United Kingdom. However, recent data and a statement from the Prime Minister indicates that we have passed the peak as case numbers, hospital admissions and death rates fall. The message from government is clear that we must maintain the restrictions in place in order to continue the decline and prevent a secondary peak in numbers. However, this positive news presents both British Dressage (BD) and British Showjumping (BS) with the opportunity to release outline plans for the resumption of sporting activity, when it is safe to do so.
Both organisations have been working on operational plans to outline their ‘roadmap’ to get training and competition activity back up and running, within any government requirements and social distancing measures that remain in place. Currently, all affiliated dressage and showjumping activity is suspended until 31 May in both disciplines and that will remain the case until restrictions are relaxed.
Working with British Equestrian, who are representing all of their member bodies at government level through partners UK Sport, Sport England and the Sport and Recreational Alliance, BD and BS have put forward a strong case that equestrian sport will be in a favourable position to resume, by providing regulated, controlled environments that can be modified to comply with any restrictions.
Both BD and BS are looking at managing the short, medium and long term implications of the crisis over three distinct phases; Response, Resumption and Recovery. As part of this there are four stages for members to follow, as a gradual approach to the resumption of activity; Ride, Train, Compete and Qualify, with each stage dependent on what government restrictions allow at that point.
The first priority is to get members back riding, where it is safe to do so, then restart limited one-to-one training activity. Online training and competitions can then pave the way for face-to-face activity to resume, including test riding days and training shows, before standard competitions begin again, with appropriate social distancing measures implemented. These will be small scale initially, within any limits to public gatherings and distances permitted for travel, with the competition structure building back up again as these restrictions are relaxed.
In the emergent phase of the outbreak, it was necessary to avoid any activity that would put additional pressure on the NHS and emergency services. With the NHS operating within capacity and extending support to other areas of critical care and specialist treatment, indications are that we will soon be in a position to actively encourage riding again as a low-risk activity that has clear benefits for the mental health and physical well-being of all participants.
This also then allows coaches to continue training with their clients, whether remotely online or in person where the coach travels to the rider. Once the government makes further concessions around travel restrictions and public gatherings, both organisations can look towards sport resuming, with modifications in place to meet any requirements. Regional training, test riding and a new concept of training shows would build horses and riders towards readiness to compete.
In terms of physical training and competition activity, both dressage and show jumping are in a positive position to manage the resumption of activity effectively:
- Riders compete as individuals in what are non-contact sports
- Activity largely takes place outdoors and is naturally socially-distanced
- Attendance is primarily competitor only, with only limited spectators
- Affiliated BD/BS venues provide regulated, controlled environments
- Requires only small numbers of staff and officials to operate shows
- Communication can be managed remotely in advance of competition
- Technology can facilitate management, with minimal human interaction
- Contact tracking and tracing can be conducted centrally, as required
Both BD and BS will be preparing ‘took kits’ for stakeholder groups to facilitate the safe return to training activity and competition, in order to carry out thorough risk assessments to comply with all social distancing, public health and hygiene requirements. The health and safety of all participants, both human and equine, will remain of paramount consideration at all times.
There remains a great deal of work to be done on rebuilding the two sports back up to pre-crisis levels and formulating revised competition calendars, the shape of which will be dependent on when government restrictions are relaxed. However, the aim is to get back up and running at the earliest opportunity by taking a flexible and adaptable approach.
Jason Brautigam, BD Chief Executive commented; “Up until now our focus has been on managing the initial impact on our sport and organisation in the wake of the pandemic and responding to constantly evolving conditions, but we feel it’s now appropriate to look forward to the resumption of the sport and consider what this will look like over coming weeks and months. We’re extremely grateful for the support that we have received from members and stakeholders so far and we all want to get back underway when it’s possible. While it is important to stress that this will only be when it’s safe to do so and in line with whatever government regulations remain in place, it is important that we have an operational plan ready to put into action as soon as we get the green light.”
BS Chief Executive, Iain Graham added; “We have to consider all our stakeholder groups in planning resumption, as everyone has been impacted differently. Across all equestrian disciplines there will be groups of ‘at risk’ individuals who may still need shielding and who are imperative to the delivery of the sport, there will also be those who may not have had access to or been able to ride their horses since the lockdown and in addition there will be some venues who will need more time than others to adapt to new requirements before they can re-open. It’s not going to be an instant fix and it is difficult to put firm plans in place while the future remains so uncertain. However, it’s vital that we’re fully prepared and ready for sporting activity to resume, so everyone can enjoy their horses and competing again and we can all collectively rebuild for the future.”
Individual Operational Plans and summary documents are due to be released shortly by both organisations and, while a great deal of planning, consideration and detail has gone into providing a clear route forward, the uncertainty of the pandemic makes it difficult to be precise about the exact timescales for the implementation and delivery of each stage. The government is due to make a further announcement on Sunday 10 May, which could potentially provide more of an indication on the relaxation of lockdown measures and give a clearer timeframe to move these plans forward.