By Anne WilsonMountains Photo
Unfortunately the choice of riding schools has diminished greatly in the last few years. This is mainly due to the constrictions of the financial recession, but also due to administrative matters such as Local Authority Licences, Council Tax (payable on arenas, stables etc.) and the ever increasing costs and need for insurance. We now live in a litigious age, when many people who accidentally hurt themselves in the pursuit of a sport, however minor that injury may be, look for someone to blame and subsequently sue. All of these financial difficulties added to the cost of horse feed, bedding, up-keep of stables, tack, schooling areas, vets’ bills, farrier bills and labour costs; make life hard for riding school proprietors.
It is a legal requirement in the UK that anyone teaching riding on their school horses should have a Local Authority riding school licence, but there is no legal requirement to possess British Horse Society (BHS) or Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS) approval. There is no reason why someone should not run a very good riding school without such approval. However, if you are new to the equestrian world, or do not have a very good personal recommendation from a knowledgeable person; then I would say that you would be better to go to a school which is approved by the BHS or ABRS. Many schools are approved by both of these associations. This should mean that the standard of stable management and horse care should be good. The horses should be kept in good condition, not overworked, and wearing well-fitting tack. It should also mean that the instruction given is up to a minimum standard and safety issues adhered to.
At this point, you may be thinking ‘all I want to do is to sit on a horse, learn to walk, trot, canter and steer. I don’t need to know about classical riding’. There is a big misapprehension about classical riding. Many people think it is all about complicated dressage movements and pompous terms. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. ‘Classical’ means pure and in riding this means following the laws of nature, being aware of and using the laws of gravity to convey what you want to the horse. Classical horsemanship also encompasses a range of ethics such as patience, perseverance, kindness etc. Above all else classicism means putting the horse’s best interests first, before any human ambitions.
Unfortunately in the present day climate of everyone being in a hurry and in the competition world, of ‘winning being the main aim’; many of the age-old, tried and tested, classical methods have been forgotten or by-passed, but they are still just as valuable as they ever were.
I cannot stress enough the fact that if you learn to ride in the correct, classical way, you will not only be a lot safer (your seat and balance will be a lot better), you will gain sheer joy from the experience of working in harmony with a horse. The uplifting adrenaline of being at one with the horse will far surpass the momentary thrill of a fast gallop. The former joy will transport you to a place nearer to nature and will stay with you forever.
I would say that it is worth the time and trouble of seeking a school which is as classically based as possible. In my experience these are usually the ones approved by the Association of British Riding Schools. That is not to say that any other school or particular instructor will not be classical, but many people do call themselves classical when in fact they are not. Conversely some instructors are brilliant, and in tune with horses; they are in fact classical without even knowing it! So it is not an easy task to find the school you are looking for. Speaking to knowledgeable horse people should be the first thing to do. You may have to travel further afield to find the school you are seeking, but it will be worth it.
Next time: Anne discusses what to look for prior to booking a lesson. Ed