MORE evidence of the detrimental effects rising insurance rates, coupled with Ireland’s notorious compo culture mentality, is having on the equine sector came into sharp focus again as yet another riding school closed its doors – this time after 50 years in business.

It was with a heavy heart that the well-regarded O’Donnell family announced on social media that they had decided to close the 50-year-old riding school aspect of their Co Limerick business, citing high insurance premiums and the compo culture scourge that exists in Ireland.

However, the O’Donnells confirmed that the competition side of their equestrian business at scenic Ballyhoura will continue. Hillcrest hosted four successful Eventing Ireland fixtures this year.

Rodney O’Donnell told The Irish Field yesterday: “We had to take the decision to close the riding school aspect of our business down. It was just not viable with all the expenses involved in a riding school coupled with the ever rising insurance costs, it was just too expensive to continue it.

“We could get insurance alright but it was just too high. It was down to one underwriter and on a thin line so we had to close the riding school down.

“Between all the forms, the health and safety involved and the problem is the waivers are not working so even if you were never at fault, you are still liable if someone falls off, even if they are not actually hurt.

“Years ago, it was more relaxed and easy – still all very safe at the same time – now you are nervous every time you take a lesson. You are afraid someone is going to fall off and claim. Our insurance was going up, up and up. The joy goes out of it altogether. It’s a different game now than it was, the whole thing has changed.

“It is the law that is the problem here really, not the insurance companies, I can’t blame the insurance companies. You don’t have any protection here the way things stand now. You might have done nothing wrong but if someone falls off you can still get sued.

“You worry about the next generation with the way things are now, not just for our sport but for every sport, swimming pools, other activities deemed to be risky, they can’t get avoidable insurance and are closing down. You should have your own personal accident insurance in place for a start,” he said.

AIRE’s Linda Young said that a lot of existing riding centres now have lists of children waiting to learn how to ride. Asked if many centres had closed over the last year, Young said several had. “A few centres couldn’t face the premiums, they had doubled. The whole problem is there is only one underwriter, some can’t even get a quote.”

Many hunt clubs nationwide are waiting on an insurance breakthrough – news of which is not in yet – to be allowed continue hunting with an easy mind this winter.

HSI membership

Meanwhile, Horse Sport Ireland is putting the finishing touches to its member-based insurance cover scheme. Acting CEO of Horse Sport Ireland, Joe Reynolds, said yesterday: “Our scheme will be a member-based scheme that people can join for public liability and can also tick for personal accident cover as well.”

Commenting on the wider issue of the compo claims culture in Ireland, he added: “The claims culture is mitigating against business in Ireland, whether you are running a play centre or a horse-riding centre. The insurance companies are seeking to cover the level of claims that are out there. It is money in money out.

“My understanding is that insurance cover is available but available at a price determined at the cost of doing business in Ireland. We need competition in the insurance market of course but the level of payouts in Ireland is much higher than other countries.”