Update for the dressage community from Jason Brautigam, BD CEO

  • Written By: British Dressage
  • Published: Thu, 09 Apr 2020 09:54

It’s been three weeks since I last wrote to you, and what a surreal and uncertain time it has been. Our priority over this initial period has been to focus on the welfare of everyone involved in our sport, as well as making sure that we were all adhering to the government guidance and advice, which is now simple: ‘stay safe, stay at home, save lives’.

We’ve worked hard to communicate regularly with all of our key stakeholder groups, not only to provide regular updates on the situation in our own sport, but more widely on promoting general health and wellbeing. This has included signposting the help and support that is available from the government for those facing financial issues resulting from the pandemic, as well as providing general advice on riding and caring for the welfare of your horse during the shutdown period.

In my last message, I explained that most of our office based staff were being relocated to work from home, but shortly after this the government put the whole country on lockdown. Our office therefore closed with immediate effect and the BD team have been working remotely since. It was quite a challenge to manage this change in such a short space of time, but the work and investment put into our IT systems has certainly proved its worth, as the transition was remarkably smooth and efficient in the circumstances.

The BD Board of Directors has been convening regularly throughout the crisis – and last week we took the tough decision to extend the suspension of all competition, training and participation activity up to and including 31 May. It is particularly hard to lose two full months of activity, but with the number of cases still increasing and the UK yet to reach the peak of this outbreak it is clear that the lockdown period is set to continue for some time yet.

When you see the number of deaths reported daily it really does put things into sharp perspective – and sport pales into insignificance in comparison. Nevertheless, we wanted to give members a clear timeframe so you could make decisions about your horse’s care, plan ahead with more certainty for the next two months and consider the options that are right for you.

Main focus areas

For now, our focus is primarily in three key areas; managing our financial position, planning for the resumption of activity and continuing to engage with members regularly. Getting these elements right are going to be vitally important to ensure we have a strong sport to return to once the current crisis is over.

On the first point, we are working with our Finance & Business Development Committee to assess the short, medium and long term implications for British Dressage, evaluating our cash flow forecasts and modelling what the likely impacts are going to be. We have collectively worked very hard in the last six years to build up a strong cash reserve position, which will help to protect us in the immediate future, but with so much uncertainty there is no room for complacency on this front.

Like most National Governing Bodies and sporting organisations, we require income from membership, competitions, starter levies, sponsorship and other commercial activity to operate effectively. With all of these revenue streams hit at once, we have taken steps mitigate costs and reduce overheads wherever possible, in order to carefully manage our cash flow.

Last week, we took the difficult decision to furlough 50% of our staff, in accordance with the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. In all of my career, this was one of my toughest tasks I’ve had to do, as we’re a close-knit team at BD and everyone has been deeply affected by this move. As I am sure members will appreciate, we had to take this action in order to protect jobs and safeguard the future of our organisation. A skeleton staff remains in place across all departments, so you can continue to contact any of the remaining team via phone or email – and we’ll do our best to help you. We aim to continue providing the same high standards of service for our members throughout – and this commitment will not change.

The support for BD and the sport as a whole has been overwhelming – so thank you all for your emails, messages and posts on social media. It never ceases to amaze me the great sense of solidarity we enjoy in the dressage community – especially as many of you will be going through your own issues resulting from the crisis, whether it’s dealing with financial hardship or personal difficulties. As a number of people have said, we’re ‘all in it together’ and collectively we will get through this.

Membership and horse registrations

Understandably, questions have been raised around refunds or extensions to membership subscriptions and horse registrations. This has been discussed in detail at Board level and by the Finance & Business Development Committee, who are considering a number of different options. Unfortunately we just don’t know how long the current uncertainty will last, so it’s not possible to make definitive decisions at this stage.

We are of course mindful of the financial impact that this crisis is having on everyone and we will certainly look to make further concessions, as and when we can afford to do so. It’s vital that we ensure there’s a viable sport of us all to come back to when restrictions are lifted and life returns to some semblance of normality. Until then, we appreciate your patience and understanding – and assure you that we’ll keep you updated as the situation develops over coming weeks.

It’s also important to remember that being a member is more than just competing and training and there are many other benefits you can still enjoy. As a member you have public liability insurance and personal accident cover from Shearwater, which is worth up to £100 alone. There’s also the free legal helpline available to members via Harrison Clark Rickerbys, which may prove to be beneficial to many during these times of uncertainty.

The BD magazine will continue to be published every six weeks and we’ll be adding more features to keep members interested, engaged and entertained while you’re stuck at home. Issue 3 should be hitting your doormat any day soon. We’ll also have additional online content that members will be able to access exclusively on our website and social media, as well as other initiatives in the pipeline.

Most importantly, continued membership also ensures that any qualifications you’ve gained to date are maintained and remain valid. Once the sport is able to resume, these qualifications can still count towards future or rescheduled competitions. So we thank you for your loyalty during these challenging times, which will help to support the sport we all love – it is very much appreciated by everyone at BD.

Sport Operations update

We have had to ask our coaches and judges to also cease any remote training and competition activity at the present time, in order to discourage riding and prevent placing any unnecessary burden on the NHS and emergency services while they work tirelessly to manage the pandemic. We understand that this will be disappointing for many members, but this is only a temporary measure – and these activities will form part of our plans for a phased return to action, when it is safe to do so. Once we are past the peak and restrictions are relaxed we will certainly look to support and promote these alternative ‘virtual’ opportunities to train and compete your horse.

Preparing for the resumption of normal competition also continues to be a huge focus for us, with impact assessments and contingency planning ongoing, based on various different scenarios. Quite what the dressage calendar will look like remains to be seen, with many major events that were due to take place this summer already cancelled or postponed, including Windsor, Bolesworth and Hickstead, as well as the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo.

Of course, our own NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships should have started today. We feel for all of you who secured your golden ticket to the finals, as well as the judges, officials, writers, sponsors, stewards, scorers and volunteers who’ll miss our annual event at Hartpury over Easter. You may have seen that we’re doing our best to recognise everyone who qualified by celebrating their achievements on social media. We will also be sending plaques out to everyone who should have been trotting down the centreline in due course.

Where possible we will look to reschedule BD competitions, but with a truncated season and social distancing measures expected to remain in place for some time, it is likely that the next few months will look quite different from a normal year. We know that everyone will be keen to know what is going on with qualifications, competitions and selection, but with no ‘end date’ to the crisis it’s impossible to be prescriptive at the present time.

A number of options are being considered, including carrying Winter Championships and Area Festival qualifications forward, a shortened summer season and / or unique bespoke solutions for 2020 only. We will do what we can to salvage the season when competition activity can safely resume, although it still difficult to predict when that might be at present. We’ll keep you updated on progress to allow plenty of time to revise your competition plans and prepare campaigns for your horse over the coming months.

During the shutdown period we will also be continuing to work on a number of important projects, including our new judge education system, development pathways and online training for youth and coach education, to ensure the sport is in good shape for the future.

Keep in touch

Please do follow our digital channels during the shutdown period, as we’ll have plenty going on to keep you all active and entertained via social media. We’ll also be posting regular news updates on our website – and, in case you’re not already aware, there’s also a coronavirus hub that contains all the helpful links, guidance, advice and support in one place, including a member FAQ document that is updated frequently.

Our priority remains you, our members. Your health and wellbeing is our paramount consideration, as is supporting you through these challenging times. Hopefully the turning point is not too far away – and our aim is to get members back riding, training and competing as soon as it’s safe to do so. While we may have to adapt to a ‘new normal’, it’s important that we all keep focused on that light at the end of the tunnel and power on towards it.

I hope you have as relaxing an Easter break as you can under the circumstances and with any luck we’ll all be back out enjoying the sport we love in the not too distant future. For now, stay safe and take good care of yourselves and your loved ones (on two and four legs!).

With best wishes,

Jason Brautigam
CEO, British Dressage