Let’s look after our riding schools

 

Can you remember your first riding lesson? Mine was light years ago, but I can still remember every detail, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON.

The small riding school in Lincolnshire was run by two dedicated sisters called Daphne and June. They introduced me to a 12.2hh strawberry roan pony called Amigo and explained that I’d learn not just how to ride, but how to tack up, groom and muck out.

When my Dad told them I could draw a saddle and bridle and label every part, and knew the name of every piece of grooming equipment and what it was for, they nodded in approval.

There was so much to take in on that first lesson. At the end, Daphne told me I must pat Amigo’s neck to thank him; the poor pony must have thought he was being patted to death.

Lots of you will have similar memories of special riding school ponies. But will your children or grandchildren have the same chances?

Unless you’re born into an equestrian family and are brought up in jodhpurs, a riding school offers the only chance of getting close to horses and ponies. Yet riding schools are under threat because of massive hikes in business rates and insurance cover, the latter due to a change in the law.

What happened to all those official declarations about riding being such a valuable activity? And what happened to all those promises about the Olympic legacy?

Times change and businesses have to adapt. Many riding schools no longer take pupils on hacks because the roads around them are too busy. And whilst some of us saw graduating from a school’s safe starter ponies to feistier ones as a badge of honour, today’s riding school owners know that some clients have their solicitors on speed dial in case their children fall off – which means feisty ponies are out of a job and children miss out.

Those who run riding schools do it for love. They certainly can’t do it to get rich – you only have to look at the costs of feed, bedding and shoeing, let alone rates and insurance, to work that out.

The latest British Horse Society statistics show that there are just under 900 BHS-approved centres worldwide. Prices vary, but private lesson prices starting at about £20 for half an hour. At one legendary school, you can have a 45-minute lesson on a dressage schoolmaster, with an equally legendary instructor, for about £80.

At my local cinema, it costs £20 for an adult and one child to see a film. So how come we still hear claims that riding is an expensive, elitist sport?

Unfortunately, until the powers that be wake up to the fact that riding schools should be treasured and helped, not rated out of existence, that’s what will happen. Some schools will close and others will have to put up prices so much, a lot of families won’t be able to afford them.

I hope things change, and that the children in your family have the chance to meet their equivalent of Amigo.