It’s the good surprise of the new school year for the horse world. The French Equestrian Federation is the only one in the sporting world to note an increase in the number of its licensees: + 11% as of October 31 compared to October 31, 2019.
“We checked these figures before rejoicing”, explains Delphine Germain, editor-in-chief of Cheval Magazine, the reference journal. Same reflex for Sophie Bonnemason, director of the Normandy Regional Riding Committee. “We called a lot of equestrian club owners to check and understand what happened. “
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Such a performance in a gloomy context for all sports activities indeed deserves an explanation. It is first of all historic, because this increase constitutes a recovery after eight years of lean cows. The increase in VAT (from 5 to 20%) at the start of François Hollande’s five-year term and the modification of school rhythms had caused a steady fall in income and licenses.
The crisis forced the clubs to question themselves
“These political choices hurt us, but the clubs had also fallen asleep on their laurels after the euphoria of the 2000s”, continues Sophie Bonnemason, who underlines the efforts on the reception of children, but especially parents. Coffee machines or Wi-Fi, for example, have appeared in the clubhouse, limiting boredom and waiting in the cold.
“The 6,000 clubs in France are small private companies generating little profit, managers receive less than a minimum wage per month and they work seven days a week. Suddenly, developments represent charges to be self-financed on profits and therefore on the employers’ wages ”, underlines Frédéric Bouix, general delegate of the federation, who sounded the alarm bell in the spring after the first confinement.
A sport that feels good
“Without customers, and therefore without income, the clubs had to continue to feed and work the horses every day, a lot of centers located in urban areas did not have pasture nearby, they had to buy hay, we were running into disaster ”, he recalls. It was narrowly avoided in part thanks to intense lobbying by rural politicians in the spring.
The aid eventually arrived, from the State (120 € per horse), local authorities and also from the federation, which chose to invest 6 million euros in an intense advertising campaign for the equestrian activity of leisure. “The travel limitations this summer, linked to the health situation, helped us. The French did not go abroad, some stayed at home, suddenly the equestrian centers had a historic season which made it possible to partly make up for the losses of the spring ”, continues the general delegate, who warns against a blissful optimism.
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Despite everything, the sector lost 20 to 25% of turnover over the year and the federation saw its revenues melt, even if the second confinement, more flexible for equestrian centers than in the rest of the sporting world, has was less painful than the first. “Above all, we think that the deprivation of contacts and nature for many French people played in favor of horse riding at the start of the school year, comments Sophie Bonnemason. People needed to move, to meet animals, horseback riding is a sport that feels good. “