SPIRALLING insurance premiums are posing a serious risk to the future viability of many of the country’s riding schools and trekking centres.

Escalating costs of insurance premiums, or the lack of any available insurance cover at all, has already seen countless riding schools and trekking centres close their gates for good in recent years.

With only one underwriter in the Irish market, owners and operators of equestrian establishments nationwide are saddled with enormous insurance premiums. Some had no option but to close down, others are worried over how they will keep their business afloat, burdened by increases in insurance premiums of nearly 90pc in some cases.

Such has been the exit of riding schools and trekking centres over recent years that many of the remaining riding schools now have long waiting lists while in other areas, large swathes of the Irish population has no access to a riding school or trekking centre.

Access to sport essential

Some 160 equestrian centres nationwide are approved by AIRE - the Association of Irish Riding Establishments - and holding AIRE approval equates to a discount of around 10pc on insurance premiums.

Chairman of AIRE, Colin Hannan, whose family own and operate Glen Aire Riding School in Mallow, Co Cork, highlighted the insurance issue and lack of access that now exists for people of all ages when it comes to horse riding.

“Insurance is a huge issue for AIRE centres as well as the many non-AIRE approved riding schools and trekking centres across the country. Many have closed in recent years and others are very worried about rising insurance premiums and how they will pay it and manage to stay in business. We have had our own riding school here with Sweeney Walsh Insurance for over 21 years but since Wexford Insurance left the Irish equine market, there is a big gap. The fact is there is only one underwriter left in Ireland. If we, as an industry, could attract another underwriter into the market, we would see some competition in equine insurance premiums. Currently people just have to pay the rising premiums if they want to stay in the business.

“We have lost some AIRE members over the rising insurance costs - other centres are experiencing three and four-fold increases in insurance costs. AIRE has met with Horse Sport Ireland and they listened to our concerns. Sport Ireland is all about participation and access to sport for all. Without equestrian centres open to the public, horse riding will become elitist. We need Sport Ireland and the Minister for Sport to come on board with us, counter that, and increase access to our sport and participation for all to horse and pony riding in Ireland,” said the AIRE chairman.

Insurance premium shock

Rachel Leonard who owns and runs Donegal Equestrian, near Bundoran, has been in business there since 2010. “The last two years since Covid have been tough. It’s virtually impossible to get insurance. My premium was €13,000 last year and this year it is €25,000 - a rise of 87pc. I am going to have to take out a loan, I have no choice. I have had two claims, one in 2020 and one in 2022. People should have their own accident insurance. If you ride horses, you have to accept that you could fall off. People think they have an automatic right to claim unfortunately.

“I’ve had riding schools for over 30 years and it has never been as bad as it is now. Something needs to be done to help.

“This is a leisure industry. Our business here is very seasonal - June, July, August. The winter is very quiet. I work closely with the Donegal English Language School and what people want is to go trekking on the beach. All of our horses and ponies, I have trained up over their lives, from yearlings, they all know their job backwards. I don’t want to have to sell them just to pay for insurance.

“There is so many riding places closing down in Ireland that horse riding is going to become elitist and we have all tried so hard to get away from it being an elite sport but sadly, that’s where we are now heading,” she added.