MANY riding schools across the region are likely to go out of business because of foot-and-mouth outbreak restrictions.

The British Horse Society is flagging up the fact to the Prime Minister through DETR Minister, Mr Michael Meacher.

The BHS says the hardest hit are trekking centres, which have been out of action for almost a month.

The restrictions mean schools are unable to take riders out on hacks and those who do not have facilities on site are unable to take any clients at all.

Even those who have indoor schools and outdoor menages are finding that many of their customers are reluctant to come out to them, and their takings are well down.

Although income may have dropped, the expenses continue: horses have to be fed and staff have to be paid.

A spokesman said: "Most riding establishments are already living on a knife edge financially because of the high costs involved, the burden of business rates and the labour intensive nature of the enterprise.

"Any drop in income is extremely damaging and a large drop is potentially disastrous."

The horse industry is the second largest in the rural economy, worth £2.55b. Farmers have increasingly diversified into equestrianism and this will mean a double blow for them.

l Low Fold Farm at Crook says its income has dropped by about 80pc because the majority of its clients are drawn from the rural community and it is struggling to survive.

And freelance instructor Mrs Marianne Watts, from the County Durham branch of the BHS, says she has effectively become unemployed because of the restrictions on movement during the current crisis.