Kids stories and rhymes are filled with animal antics, with horses ranking high in the imagination stakes. And in the run up to the school summer holidays, if your child would love more than a quick donkey ride at the beach, what could be more exciting than to fill some of those long days with some real life horse riding lessons?
As a sport, horse riding is certainly not going to be the cheapest activity you could choose, but for the youngster fascinated by all things horsey the rewards include a sense of freedom and responsibility, great physical exercise and a real sense of achievement and exhilaration. Not to mention the understanding and enjoyment of our natural environment in a way that is intrinsically linked in to the countryside around us.
You can get some slices of your own pony heaven at numerous centres across the UK. Many offer sessions aimed at beginners that, as well as riding, teach children about grooming, handling and fitting saddles and bridles. Some equestrian schools will take children as young as three, but most prefer to wait until five or six which sounds like about the right age unless you have a horsey background in your family. Teaching usually takes place in small groups, or you can book individual lessons if you have the budget. The British Horse Society has a list of approved riding schools with a handy scoring scheme for different aspects of the school from facilities to riding out to coaching. You can expect the ponies for the young ones to be good natured, lovable animals because of course alongside the kids, the animals should always be the centre of attention.
First lessons usually involve getting to know the horses and teach basic riding skills – getting on and off, sitting correctly, walking and trotting, holding the reigns correctly and signals to guide, steer and of course to stop the horse. Children are paired with horses and ponies of a suitable size for their height and level of ability so they feel happy, confident and in control. The first lesson will take place in an enclosed space designed for beginners and they will not venture outside this area until the instructor feels they are ready. So you needn’t worry about the horse taking off across the countryside with your child on board!
Horse care is just as important as riding, and lessons will pay just as much attention to that as they do to the riding itself. So part of the lesson should be taken up with leading the pony, grooming and tacking up. But overall, look for lessons that are fun with lots of individual and team exercises, games and activities.
The riding school will usually have hats, boots and body protectors for hire. You’ll be advised to dress your child in comfortable clothing that doesn’t restrict movement – though it’s best to avoid baggy clothing as it can flap around and cause alarm to the horse or pony. It’s certainly worth hiring equipment at first, to see how your child takes to the riding experience before being tempted to splash out on an impressive full riding kit! Your child may be impressed by their more experienced peers in jodhpurs and riding jackets but that can all come later, when you know they’re in it for the long run.
If your child really takes to the sport, they can carry on their involvement after the holidays. Many riding schools are linked with the Pony Club UK and offer schemes with achievement badges covering subjects like feeding, equipment, pony behaviour and grooming. The Pony Club also offer Pony Club camps where your child can enjoy a residential course and get to know children who also love their riding!
Interested in horse riding for children? Here are some horse riding schools we like that are approved by The British Horse Society:-
Hargate Hill Equestrian Centre, Derbyshire
Hyde Park Stables, London