Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Riding Schools Struggling in Today's Litigious Climate; Farming It's Been a Tough Few Years for the Owners of the North's Riding Schools as Soaring Insurance Premiums Caused Many to Contemplate Whether They Could Continue Running a Viable Business. but a Different Approach to Risk Management Means the Tide May Finally Be Turning. Karen Dent Reports

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Riding Schools Struggling in Today's Litigious Climate; Farming It's Been a Tough Few Years for the Owners of the North's Riding Schools as Soaring Insurance Premiums Caused Many to Contemplate Whether They Could Continue Running a Viable Business. but a Different Approach to Risk Management Means the Tide May Finally Be Turning. Karen Dent Reports

Article excerpt

Byline: Karen Dent

WHEN Marian Nicol set up her riding school in Seahouses 34 years ago, it was one of three on this picturesque stretch of the Northumberland coast.

In addition to Slate Hall Riding Centre, there was a riding school in neighbouring Beadnell and further north at Waren Mill. But the stables at Waren Mill have long been empty and the riding school field at Beadnell is covered in houses.

Rising costs and expectations, plus the ever-increasing price of insurance, has seen the demise of riding schools across the UK. Those that have survived have been forced to adapt to meet the needs of their clients - and their insurance companies.

"You have to have accident books and you have to make staff aware of health and safety standards," says Mrs Nicol.

One of the main attractions for riders visiting Slate Hall is the chance to ride on the beach. But in this litigious age, the riding centre has to be confident in the client's ability before they are allowed to do so and customers must complete a detailed form listing their riding experience.

"We have had to do that because the insurers asked us to. We also ask clients a lot of questions when they want to book," Mrs Nicol said.

"When they have filled the forms in, we can be more sure. We can produce those sheets in court if something terrible were to happen."

She says insurance prices have absolutely spiralled because of the number of claims the industry has faced and she blames today's compensation culture for the problem.

The British Horse Society (BHS) says the other root of the problem is a 2003 ruling by the House of Lords, which set the precedent that keepers of creatures such as horses and cattle can be held liable for accidents involving their animals - even if they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent one from happening.

There was a flicker of hope earlier this year when Welsh Conservative MP Stephen Crabb effectively tried to overturn this precedent via a Private Member's Bill aiming to amend the 1971 Animals Act.

If it had been successful, keepers who took all reasonable care would not automatically be liable for damage caused by non-dangerous animals such as horses. But despite winning support from the main political parties, there were too few MPs in the chamber to vote on the Bill and it did not progress. …

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