(This post originally appeared on iSportconnect)
Andrew Finding is the British Equestrian Federation’s (BEF) Chief Executive, a role he has held since 2000. He was commissioned into the Royal Air Force (1970-1989) as a professional administrator and was Chief Executive of the British Show Jumping Association (1989-1999).
He is an elected non-executive board director of the European Equestrian Federation (EEF), an elected member of the Federation Equestre Internationale’s (FEI) Nomination’s Committee.
He has led two major General Assembly’s (GAs) in London, the FEI’s GA in 2005 and the EEF GA in 2011, and Equestrian sport’s successful support of and engagement in the Games at London 2012 when Equestrian athletes won 5 Olympic (3 Gold) and 11 Paralympic (5 Gold) medals to head the FEI’s two medal tables.
He represents Equestrian sport on the BOA’s National Olympic Committee and the BPA’s National Paralympic Committee.
What are the different elements of your role at the BEF?
The British Equestrian Federation is recognised as the national governing body for equestrian sport by the international federation, British Olympic Association, BPA and so on.
We are constituted by eighteen member body organisations, each of which provides leadership in their particular area or specialisation, which is pretty unusual, if not unique in sport.
Just to give you a flavour for our industry, there are about 2.5 million people who ride regularly, some 4 million ride at least once a year. There are just under 1 million horses in the land and we employ, as an industry, a bit over 40,000 full time employees with about 260,000 in total overall.
Our contribution to the national economy presents about £7 billion a year. In those figures I include racing, polo and all of those organisations that make up the BEF.
My role in all of this is to try to act as something as a spokesman for equestrian sport, to harness and co-ordinate all of the activities where we need to present ourselves as a single entity working on a common aim.
You worked in the Royal Air Force for 18 years, before joining the British Show Jumping Association and then the BEF. What attracted you to working in sport and specifically equestrianism?
I was a professional administrator in the Royal Air Force, and in an environment where pilots were ultimately the leaders, my career opportunities had limitations. I wanted to stop moving around and I also wanted some stability for my children to be effectively educated and I’m pleased to say that that has happened.
My wife saw an advertisement in the Telegraph one day for somebody to work in Show Jumping and encouraged me to apply for the job, and as they say, the rest is history.
My desire to come to the BEF from Show Jumping was simply based on career progression and the feeling that I had something to contribute to the greater picture of the horse world, particularly at a time when we were rightly being pushed and funded to enhance the levels of performance and attractiveness for the industry.
The number of people riding has doubled over the last decade, can you explain that increase?
There’s been a stronger general collaboration amongst our community over the years, but we mustn’t forget either, although we’re in recession now, the growth of the economy, the ability for people to acquire land in a way that was never possible before, in the attractiveness of the horse and the people wishing to own and ride horses.
I wouldn’t ascribe any particular programmes to the increase in activity, simply that the conditions have been right. The attractiveness of the countryside and the horse have been important factors, and the adjustment in the farming community has changed and so too has the volume and scope of international competition changed in that period.
I think it’s probably fair to say that over the last decade there’s been a multiplication of about three times of the number of international equestrian events held on a global basis. Where there’s been expansion in the United Kingdom, so there’s been expansion in many parts of the world.
You announced the Hoof scheme at the end of 2007, aiming to encourage Londoners to take up riding and create a legacy for equestrianism from the Olympics. How successful has that been?
I think it is successful, but it’s progressive. I think the word “legacy” has become a bit toxic; it means different things to different people.
The purpose of our Hoof operation has been to help more people find horses and enjoy the benefits of riding, either as a sport, as a recreation or for therapeutic value. To give an illustration, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall opened the Ebony Horse Club’s new centre in Brixton, as its President. It opened before the Olympic Games, so it was a legacy in advance of the Games.
It provides services for young people in the Brixton area, many of whom live very disadvantaged lives. I’m thrilled to bits that venue has increased the numbers of people who are able to ride in and around London from around 20 a week to 140-150 a week.
We came across the Ebony Horse Club as a consequence of an article written in the Daily Telegraph by the late Cassandra Jardine. She wrote about a young black man named Nathan Foster, who had found the Ebony Horse Club as a distraction from the life of gangs in Brixton.
He had started having success with horses and leading others to horses, but he was involved in a dispute, and subsequently shot and murdered. I was reading the article and thought: “We have to make a contribution to this community.” With the very considerable support of a huge number of people who’ve provided money and support for the venue, we now see in place a riding school.
That’s one story out of which Hoof was born. Similarly, we’ve been working with the Royal Borough of Greenwich and Hadlow College to establish a new equestrian centre, an academic venue, in Greenwich itself. That will be opening in the next few months and will provide support for the community and academic excellence in all things equine, delivered wonderfully by Hadlow College.
Those are a couple of examples of the Hoof programme working in London. We’ve extended that across England as our hoofride.co.uk website illustrates, where we’re encouraging people to ride for the first time and encouraging people who have ridden to come back to horses.
Equestrianism is often regarded as an elitist sport. Do you think this is unfair?
In parts no, but generally speaking yes. There is no doubt that success at the very highest levels requires a very substantial amount of financial underpinning. However, almost every one of those people who are successful on the world stage come from normal backgrounds, for the want of a better expression.
There are people about who enjoy well-financed backgrounds, no doubt you are aware of some of them by name, but for the great part our community is made up with every conceivable cross-section of society.
People who are involved in horses and riding them often do so out of passion and love and affection. The whole community comes together with this common interest and our people represent a microcosm of society at large.
UK Sport and Sport England have both increased equestrian funding for 2013-2017. What impact will this have and how will the additional money be used?
Essentially, on the UK Sport front, we take the view that we’re never, ever successful enough. For us, standing still is not an option. We are now campaigning to achieve success in Rio de Janeiro. Campaigning in that environment is a challenge, not least of which is the challenge associated with shipping horses halfway around the world to arrive and be able to compete on the top-of-the world stage and win medals.
On the Sport England front, our funding has been increased because we’ve hit every target that we have agreed with Sport England, with the exception of increasing levels of participation as much as we would like.
We are concentrating very hard indeed at the moment on seeking to drive and work with more people to bring them into equestrianism, from the ages of 14-25 in particular. We’re particularly keen to increase the numbers of disabled people who are able to ride horses and we have waiting lists of disabled people who wish to ride.
We are working to provide greater access for those who wish to ride. We also need to work hard and will support the development of more and better coaches, and increasingly, more volunteers.
Like all sports and activities, we are completely and utterly dependent upon volunteers.
There are almost 2.5 million people around the country who ride regularly. How do you ensure there are adequate facilities for all of these people?
With the size of the industry that we have, there’s a very significant amount of market supply and demand at work. Where the demand increases, then so the facilities follow.
What we seek to do is help facilitate a balance in the supply and demand. With some of the funding we enjoy from Sport England we have been financially supporting community clubs with things like additional lights or roofs over riding schools or enhanced all-weather surfaces on the basis and understanding that we see a significant increase in the numbers of people who are able to ride as a consequence of that funding activity.
People who run venues come to us with bids for funding support that we analyse and we select only those that we believe can contribute to increasing the levels of participation.
How important are sponsors to the BEF?
Very, but our sponsorship is rather different from the way one might describe some of the competitions that run in other sports. We run a vast number of shows and activities across the nation, year in, year out. Virtually 100% of those activities are run independently by organising committees and they respectively generate sponsorship for their particular event. The sponsors to those organising committees are absolutely vital and they are truly effective, so the straightforward answer to your question is very important.
There’s also another community of people who could be described as sponsors and those are the people who own the horses that our most talented riders ride. At the top end of our high-performance operations, most of the horses are not owned by the riders themselves or are partially owned by them and so those who own horses do so, in a sense, as part of a sponsorship operation.
The very special community of people who own horses are absolutely vital to our success. They are quite wonderful people who essentially contribute by way of sponsorship, but in a different name.
What are your future ambitions for the BEF and how do you hope to achieve them?
We want to achieve more medal success, we want to increase the levels of participation, we want to encourage yet more effective breeding of British sport and recreational horses with good temperaments, we want to enhance further the quality of coaching in supporting the ability of people to achieve success.
Underpinning all of that, we want people to enjoy their experiences in our sport, to have fun in our sport and to find their activities rewarding and stimulating and that everybody that is involved, whether they work or compete in the industry or they ride horses recreationally, we would like to see all of those people aspire to the highest levels of their potential.