Four years ago this week, the equestrian trade was adjusting to Covid lockdown restrictions. ETN revisits that uncertain time.

In April 2020, the weather was endlessly sunny, calm, warm and dry. 

Shows and events were cancelled, but furloughed horse owners were making the most of paid time off work to enjoy their equines.

There were panics about supplies - and confusion over which goods and services were ‘essential’ under lockdown rules. Nevertheless, the equestrian trade continued to serve its customers.  

Raided by police

Gallop Equestrian’s Tipton, West Midlands premises was raided by police officers arriving in two marked vans. They appeared to mistake the wholesaler for a consumer-facing retail business. 

“We felt completely powerless,” said business owner Bobby Taak. “We were told that if we didn’t close immediately, there would be an official order and we would be prosecuted.”

Gallop Equestrian was cleared to carry on trading only after the British Equestrian Trade Association’s (BETA) Claire Williams canvassed West Midlands Police chief constable Dave Thompson and Defra Secretary of State George Eustice on Gallop Equestrian’s behalf. 

A rush on cleaning products

Online shopping became a lifeline for consumers.  

“We’re ridiculously busy, probably a third busier than a normal March/April,” said Hannah Wild, founder of Supplement Solutions. 

She also reported a rush on Hibiscrub, disinfectants, sanitisers and other cleaning products.

“Thank goodness for furlough”

Distributor Zebra Products had just two people working in its Flintshire HQ; one picking and packing and one answering calls and inputting orders. 

“They are working in separate parts of the building and taking every recommended precaution,” said managing director Simon Middleton. 

“We are getting shipments from Germany and Belgium, but understandably nothing at all from Italy [due to the strict Covid lockdown there]. 

“Thank goodness for the furlough scheme – not that we are 100% sure when we will all be reimbursed by HMRC. 

On a war footing

Barbour was producing PPE garments for its local NHS Trusts. The company’s South Shields factory, which normally makes wax jackets, was turned over to manufacturing disposable gowns and scrubs. 

It wasn’t the first time Barbour has stepped in to help during a national emergency. Its factory produced military garments during both World Wars.  

Concern for what might happen

At Ingatestone Saddlery Centre in Essex, Michela Stanford said the store’s click and collect service was in high demand.

“We make up orders and leave them ready on trolleys. Then customers drive up and we deliver it straight to their car boots, so there’s no contact,” she explained. 

Feed, bedding, grooming and horse care basics – rather than high cost, luxury items - were selling best. “Customers are concerned about what’s going to happen; they are being careful,” added Michela

Racing off 

Jump racing was off until at least 1 July – but plans were underway for flat meetings with no spectators.  

“Don’t panic buy”

Consumers were reportedly panic-buying feed and bedding, although the dry, warm weather meant many horses could be turned out.

“Feed mills are manufacturing at levels unheard of for this time of year,” said Claire Williams of BETA. “There’s plenty of feed out there and no reason for anyone to be short of supplies, unless people continue to buy unreasonably.”

Barricading the store

At Snack and Tack, Farnham, Surrey - where in-store browsing was prohibited - it was only by placing a table across the shop door that the message got through.

“A table in the doorway is physically keeping customers out, and we’ve placed the card machine on it so they can pay there,” said business owner Jane Powell who was only accepting card payments in case cash was contaminated.

Once the restrictions first came in, Snack and Tack was “manic” with people buying feed and bedding, plus dog food and wild bird food in big bags. 

“It shows that people care about their animals, in some cases more than themselves,” said Jane. “People on their own [who may be self-isolating] particularly find their animals mean a lot and are good company.”

Toilet rolls and baked beans

Nottinghamshire retailer Manor Equestrian did a roaring trade in toilet rolls and tins of baked beans. “

“I stocked up at the cash and carry as soon as lockdown hit on 23 March,” said proprietor Matt Severn, whose store was then in a residential area. “It was a nice feeling to help the local community.”