Despite the severity of transmission of the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus, it looks as if government policy on how to deal with this and any future virus looks unlikely to include a severe lock-down.

Surely we have the vaccination programme more than anything else to thank for that. Therefore, despite the inevitable fluctuations of government policy along the way, I would say that it is fairly safe for organisers to plan for a resumption of some normality with a certainty that hasn't existed for almost two years now.

The question is whether the new normality will ever resemble that of the old. I doubt it.

The reason I make this prediction can't be explained by the existence of Covid-19 itself, although the embers of change may have been rekindled by it. Change has been on the cards for some time and 2022 may well be the year when we see the equestrian landscape reshaped significantly.

Financial pressures will inevitably be exerted on the whole of society as the aftermath of Covid's costs and borrowing, along with debt, become more apparent.

Only time will tell how our government's respond to these pressures but make no mistake, the basic essentials of our lives will place greater pressure on money available to fund our equine interests with potentially dire consequences for the industry supporting it.

In the immediate future the cost of energy to everyday living will pose a huge potential burden directly on our finances while, indirectly, the cost of fertiliser to the farming industry is sure to push up the costs of fodder, hard feed and straw.

It is ironic that due to a current high demand there is a lack of availability of good quality horses and ponies and the price has never been higher. Arguably, it is due to the past Covid-19 restrictions that time and money is there, but for how long?

Just as the country experienced a puppy boom during lockdown, we have to wonder whether or not the surge in equine ownership can be maintained and, more worryingly, will it eventually come at a cost to the welfare of horses and ponies as expenses escalate and free time reduces?

In the meantime, the interest in competition riding continues to increase in most disciplines and at all levels. On the flat, dressage stands out as riders can monitor their own progress without the cut and thrust of appearing alongside fellow competitors in a show ring where placings are immediate and apparent.

The fact that 'walk and trot' competitions exist speaks volumes for the fully inclusive nature of competitions now available and show jumping starting heights for juniors (60/65cm) and adults (80cm) says it all.

In the absence of the local gymkhana – where similar classes might have been held – the less ambitious riders have been officially recognised. British Eventing demonstrated a similar entry level with fences at 80cm and an accredited coach on hand to support competitors free of charge.

Setting aside the need for the various organisations to seek funds through enhanced membership numbers and competition levies, in the broader sense, this reflects the entitlement culture which pervades society.

In addition, given that the success of all sports (and moreover sport funding) is based on the pyramid model, in order to achieve at the highest level (eg Olympic), the broader the base the more likely this is can be achieved. By lowering the level of competition, the greater the involvement by individuals and the broader the base. It all makes perfect sense.

Life has also moved to a place where convenience is the name of the game and for this reason many competition riders prefer time slots to compete. This means they know when to appear and know when they can disappear having as much or as little interaction with others as desired.

Dressage has worked to this model for a long time, however Covid-19 regulations have definitely had a significant influence on this for both show jumping and showing and it looks like enduring.

It's a factor that also works against the tradition of the local shows and horse shows for that matter – both had a social, as well as competitive element and were regarded as a day out. Competitors regularly arrived early and remained on the field till late.

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Agricultural shows, in particular, had their own identity, with locals providing enthusiasm as well as labour. With both of these in short supply, especially the volunteer effort which made them happen, I worry about the future of the agricultural show, especially with a significant equestrian section.

In terms of specialist horse shows, few now exist which include show jumping and showing, although the odd one brings showing and dressage together. It is also difficult to believe that the modern competitor doesn't only want to compete on grass but has an active aversion towards it.

This highlights another of the new 'normals', that the equestrian centre is the venue now for most disciplines. By providing all-weather surfaces and ancillary facilities required, such as toilets, canteen, parking and easy access, who can blame show organisers for moving towards them. Well done centre owners for recognising and meeting the demand.

However, there is a worrying trend which seems to be creeping in and one that is fully understandable. In order to make centres pay, their owners are organising their own showing shows, as well as dressage and show jumping competitions, many of which are unaffiliated, shows in particular.

This new normal is turning the clock back some 50 years to when I first started to compete and it looks like the hard struggle to get shows to affiliate to the various societies is slowly being eroded.

Since there is an obvious demand for centres to stage unaffiliated competition, one has to wonder why and I would suggest that several reasons exist. Firstly, there is a misconception that 'affiliated' means competition set an uncomfortably high standard outwith the capability of the average owner/rider; there is the hope that the 'better' horses/ponies/owners/riders won't turn up and some people just don't like rules and want to play the game as they see fit and not as determined by others.

Therein lies one of the biggest problems for the 'new normal' and one to which centres need to turn their attention.

While 'unaffiliated' competitions draw in good entries and therefore good money, they bring with them a number of issues specifically the lack of rules and importantly the lack of personnel selected by the various societies as competent to officiate and make sure fair competition takes place.

The latter also makes sure that welfare standards for both horse and rider are maintained. The hard-fought battle to affiliate competitions of all disciplines over the years was made to set standards and ensure fair play, principles we can ill-afford to lose.

Currently, unaffiliated competitions call upon local enthusiasts – some with little or no experience – to officiate, or those on appointed panels/lists who are kind enough to accept an invitation out of a feeling of public duty. I wonder how many of them have considered the insurance implications for them if something goes wrong and no rules, or society to back them?

I wonder how many of the competitors, especially those involving children, are placing their trust in people who have not undergone child protection checks as official society judges must?

What happens when judges bring welfare issues to the attention to the organisers with no official rules for backing and all the while knowing that the perpetrators perhaps are considered customers first and competitors second? Will the customer always be right and how does this and various other contentious issues reflect on listed judges or officials?

Bearing in mind the litigious society in which we now live, I, for one, won't be volunteering when I read or hear the word 'unaffiliated' when asked to judge.

At the very least, those organising unaffiliated competitions, whatever they may be, should adopt as their own the tried and tested rules of the appropriate governing bodies.

These would provide a basic framework to which organisers, judges, stewards and competitors alike are able to work. I suspect that insurance companies may also look more favourably on any claims if a set of rules are stated and in place.

Trends occur in all walks of life and during every period of history. Hopefully, the younger generation will become involved sooner than later in order to ensure that the 'new normal' matches, if not surpasses the standards of the old.

This will require a commitment and voluntary effort previously afforded by those going before as well as a recognition that there is at least some good in previous traditions. The old adage of taking care not to throw babies out with bathwater comes to mind.