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Portia Antonia Alexis Interview: The Economics and Future of The British Equine Industry


29th Apr 2020 Down to Business

Portia Antonia Alexis has one of those faces you may find hard to place. The quintessentially intriguing economist, who has worked at Mckinsey and Company and Bank of America Merrill Lynch is a researcher at the London School of Economics and one of the millennial thought leaders questioning society in relation to income inequality, social mobility and allowing low income children to access cultural hobbies and experiences.


Recognisable by her luminous brown skin and jet-black tresses, the British economist also has a penchant for both her past as an equestrian and wants to know how to champion saving the world in the future also– she sat with us to discuss the economics ,future of the British Equine Industry and allowing children from low income households to access cultural and sporting experiences.

"‘The United Kingdom has a great diversity of indigenous breeds, especially ponies. Galloping races are very present both in culture and in the national economy.’"

‘The United Kingdom has a great diversity of indigenous breeds, especially ponies. Galloping races are very present both in culture and in the national economy.’ Says Portia.

How are actors divided into the British equine industry?

‘The British government is attentive to the horse industry. Its guardianship system is close to the Irish organization. It has no centralization body, breed associations which manage the birth of British breeds and two ministries which finance the sector: the Department of Culture, Media, Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)’ says Portia. In addition to current funding, there are additional funding plans, depending on the year. It was particularly the case at the London Olympics in 2012.

Great Britain had an organization that managed a database specific to equines: the National Equine Database. In 2012, DEFRA stopped this mission contract. In 2016, governments authorized 54 studbooks, and 14 organizations allowed to publish passports; the groups are parts of the PIO (Passport Issuing Organizations). The complexity lies in the fact that some studbooks are no longer able to post passports and have transferred the mission to another. For example, the Lipizzaner National Stud Book publishes visas for the Gypsy Cob Society.

British Horseracing Authority and the British Equestrian Federation

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) are the main interlocutors of the government. One centralizes horse racing, the other sports-leisure; they thus make it possible to determine policy and actions.

‘For horse racing, the BHA is in charge of racing regulations and their application. Its primary missions are the development of the race calendar, the determination of handicap values for horses, the law of race operations, the issuance of licenses to professionals, and the medical aspect Portia says.

Horse production

Experts estimate the equine population at 900,000 equines. This figure remains an estimate because no database centralizes the number of horses present on British soil. This overall figure includes 34,400 horses affiliated with equestrian sports and 77,300 equines participating in leisure events (polo, horseball, games).

Only the Thoroughbred herd is known precisely with 8,282 mares, 206 stallions, and 4,328 foals for the year 2014, plus 13,000 horses in training. Great Britain is the cradle of the Thoroughbred breed, with its three primary breeders: The Darley Arabian, Godolphin Arabian, and Byerley Turk.

Race track

‘Galloping races are very present in Great Britain, both in culture and in the national economy. With its 59 racetracks, 10,090 races and 1,336 point-to-point run in 2014. Racing is a viral British leisure activity. A definite sign of attachment to this discipline, the queen-mother, is regularly present on racetracks and owner of racehorses.’ Portia states.

The ties between Ireland and Britain are historic, particularly in the racing industry. The keeping of the thoroughbred studbook is common to both countries and managed by Weatherbys. The two countries are complementary, Ireland "raises" and Great Britain "trains"; more than 13,000 horses have a declaration for training, distributed in 761 structures, on behalf of 7,931 owners.

‘A unique feature of England is the management of racetracks. in Ireland, trackers plan the industry as a profit center with, in addition to the races, offers of sponsorship and rental of very developed spaces.’ She says of the UK race track.

Sport sector

She asks us to analyse the sport sector ‘Grand Britain is the land for all equine disciplines. Regarding Olympic disciplines, show jumping and eventing are preferred by the British. Hunting or Fox Hunting is the national sport, although controversial by animal protection associations’. This practice dates from the 15th century and remains widespread in rural areas. This cultural discipline illustrates the strong links between Ireland and the United Kingdom since the majority of the horses used came from a cross with the Irish Draught, Irish horses. Today, it is mainly a reclassification route for eventing and horse racing horses.

Portia believes things are shaping up ‘the practice of classical horse riding is somewhat elitist in Great Britain. However, since 2005, a strategic plan for the equine sector has tended to democratize its practice and make it financially more accessible. The 2012 Olympics largely contributed to strengthening this national will’.

However, in 2015, a study showed that 96% of licensed practitioners are riders "for fun." Their number dropped from 3.5 million passengers in 2011 to 2.7 million in 2015. This regression mainly impacts regular practitioners who put forward the main reasons for the cost and ease of access to infrastructure.

VAT riding lessons exemption

Equidae being outside the agricultural field, is logically excluded from the individual rates of VAT intended for farming products. ‘On the other hand, the British tax authorities consider horse riding to be a discipline that can be taught in school and therefore exempt its teaching from VAT’ Portia says. For a horse riding service to fall within the scope of this exemption, it should be provided by an independent teacher, which explains why many equestrian centers are in the form of partnerships rather than companies.

Taxation of foreign betting operators

‘Since 2014, the new law on the betting and gambling sector requires bookmakers established abroad to obtain a license and to be subject to taxation for the part of their activities carried out on British territory or with a bettor ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom.’ Says Portia.

Equine welfare

British law imposes a duty of care on those responsible for animals. The minimum standards for fulfilling this obligation, concerning the detention of equines, are detailed in codes of good governance practice, which do not have the force of law but are a powerful indicator for judges. Equine sector's Representatives got involved in the drafting of these codes, as well as in the welfare strategy and health of equines implemented on a national scale since 2007.

World Horse Welfare (WHW), the UK's most active animal welfare organization, takes a pragmatic and innovative approach to animal welfare. It is based on scientific studies and seeks to work with all stakeholders to adopt feasible and beneficial solutions in the long term. The latest survey by WHW in 2016 paints an explosive picture of current welfare priorities in the United Kingdom.

Portia states than an example of this is the raising awareness of equine behavior problems and their potential causes, combating obesity, better anticipate the end of life by knowing how to kill when necessary, which contrasts with the grand vision of mistreatment relayed by the media.

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