What is ECVOA, what year was it established and by who?

ECVOA, the Equestrian Competition Venues Owners Alliance, was formed in early 2016 when a group of like-minded owners of some of the main equestrian centres in Ireland approached me and asked me to act as their co-ordinator. The initial seven members, alphabetically, were Ard Chuain EC, Barnadown EC, Cavan EC, Coilog EC, Galway EC, Millstreet EC and Mullingar EC and these held a series of meetings that year to outline their objectives and to plan how to achieve those goals.

How did the concept of ECVOA come about?

Initially, the idea of a representative body for equestrian centres was suggested by Robert Fagan and he held early discussions with the other six centre owners who formed the original seven members. I was asked to get involved and I initiated the process of registration, drafting of the constitution and other administrative tasks to allow us to assume a legal footing.

What is your role in it?

I am involved as an administrator, coordinator and sometimes spokesperson. The role is part-time but just at the moment is very busy and always interesting. A lot of my time is spent keeping lines of communication to the main players in the sports horse industry open. At times this can be challenging but it is vital, particularly in these difficult times, that we all work together.

Why was it considered important to establish ECVOA – did equestrian centres feel their voice was not being heard at the decision-making level within the industry?

Prior to the formation of ECVOA in 2016, the equestrian centres had never had a voice in the sports horse industry. When you think about it, this is really incredible. The centres have a huge part to play across all equestrian disciplines, be it show jumping, eventing, dressage, ponies, riding clubs etc. We have invested a huge amount of money in our facilities; most of the time this investment is borne by the owners with very little grant funding.

ECVOA members are also some of the most significant sponsors and promoters of the equestrian industry, promoting shows, major equestrian events and providing prize funds from their own personal resources and securing sponsors for the sport.

We consider ourselves to hold equal status with all other participants in the sport, not more important than any affiliate or representative group, but certainly not any less vital to the success of the sport horse industry. We work closely with the Show Jumpers Club as many of our objectives are the same and we have a good working relationship with Horse Sport Ireland which recognises that we have a huge part to play in the industry in future years.

We need to work closely with Show Jumping Ireland and are always striving to keep lines of communication open to all affiliates and disciplines.

Explain the main aims and objectives of ECVOA

Our original main objective for forming was to access ongoing Government funding to maintain and develop our competition venue facilities for the betterment of the wider equestrian sport horse industry.

Subsidiary objectives were to:

  • a. Help establish Ireland as a top-class equestrian sports venue for a domestic and overseas market through ongoing investment.
  • b. Assist in the creation of a working environment where young producers, riders and industry related workers can achieve a reasonable standard of living in Ireland, without recourse to emigration.
  • c. Help owners realise a reasonable return on their investment in sports horses by providing safe surfaces, top quality materials and a suitable environment where young horses can learn and improve during their formative years.
  • d. Gain representation on the boards of the bodies governing equestrian sport in Ireland
  • e. Access ongoing funding for the maintenance and improvement of our facilities in order to raise the standard of these facilities to the level currently available on mainland Europe.
  • ECVOA is currently represented on the Horse Sport Ireland Economic Forum, chaired by Sport Horse Alliance’s Barry O’Connor and has contributed to the Power Report on the Irish Sport Horse Industry which was commissioned by the SHA.

    How many equestrian centres are involved or represented in ECVOA? Is it an all-Ireland group (i.e. north and south involvement)

    We currently have a membership of 18 centres, with 15 in the Republic of Ireland and three in Northern Ireland. In addition to our original seven members, we now include Broadmeadows EC, JAG EC, Kernans EC, Killossery EC, Maryville EC, Portmore EC, Raheen na Gun EC, Ravensdale EC, The Meadows EC, Tipperary EC and Wexford EC amongst our members. Any centre interested in joining us only needs to make contact with me.

    Is it for the larger centres only? Does every centre involved, big or small, have an equal say or input? How many jobs are represented by ECVOA?

    As you can see from our list of members, we represent centres of all sizes. All members are equal and the smallest has as much right of input and influence as the largest. Thankfully we are a strongly united group and we all are working in the same direction. Most of the centres are family run businesses with a strong record of development and growth over periods from 20 to 50 years.

    The members of ECVOA are professionals with the ability to survive through the toughest business challenges which have recently been thrown at them. They have survived because they employ sound business models and know their trade inside out. Approximately 500 people would be employed by our member centres.

    What issues is ECVOA currently working on and what progress is being made?

    We are currently working with Show Jumping Ireland to develop a set of protocols which will be in use at our centres during SJI affiliated shows. Each of us has our own unique requirements so it is a case of finding the common ground and producing a protocol which is mutually acceptable.

    We have also offered our services to SJI to work with their National Competition Committee on a new calendar for the recommencement of competition on June 29th and we have offered to trial the SJI Live App for them at our current schedule of training and schooling dates leading up to Phase 3.

    What special arguments can be made in favour of supports for equestrian centres at this unprecedented time?

    You need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the Irish Sports Horse industry. Our strengths are in our people. We have world-class breeders, producers, riders and grooms. We have great land and the climate to produce young horses.

    What we lack is a developed top-class infrastructure, lack of standardised surfaces and the capital to replenish and maintain the surface standards to world-class level to produce these horses at home.

    Just witness the mass exodus of horses and personnel each year to mainland Europe and the various festivals in the USA. Owners and producers are reluctant to risk their investment in horses at facilities which do not compare favourably, with a few exceptions, to those available in Europe or further afield.

    The industry needs substantial Government financial support over a number of years to invest in facilities, surfaces and infrastructure to bring us to the level available in Europe. We need to develop competition circuits here at home where young riders and producers across all disciplines have a realistic chance of making a working wage through proper prize money.

    We need our young people to travel and learn, but we also need them to come home and utilise this expertise for the good of the Irish sport horse industry. We have exported our finest young producers and riders – just look at the number of Irish dealers and producers dotted across Europe and the United States – but we need to invest strongly here at home to attract them back home.

    Post Covid-19 Ireland is going to be a challenging environment and investment in the sport horse industry will probably not be high on the priority list of Government, but ECVOA and all other stakeholders in the industry must work together to pressurise for funding which will prove to be a sound investment into the future.

    Pat McCartan is the co-ordinator of ECVOA