After being horseless for a couple of years, I recently decided to take up riding again. My last horse was something of a delinquent and my confidence was therefore at an all-time low so I thought the best plan of action would be to take lessons at a good riding school. My non-riding other half was also keen to join in and said that he wanted some lessons too. Although he’s extremely fit and rides a mountain bike very regularly, he’s 53 and has never sat on a horse in his life! It was therefore imperative that we found the right riding school for both of us.
Where to start?
Most areas have plenty of riding schools advertised in the local yellow pages and there are websites that list them too, together with reviews which are quite helpful. The best recommendation though is from friends who have first-hand experience of different schools. Some specialise in teaching beginners and children whereas others are geared more towards experienced riders who want to concentrate on one discipline in particular; dressage for example.
You could also try asking at your local equine vet, livery yard or tack shop. Check out any riding school websites you can find too. Since 2010, all UK riding schools which are BHS registered are given a grade based on the findings of an unannounced inspection. A = approved. C = commended. HC = highly commended. Steer away from riding schools which are not BHS accredited. Some riding schools have a Facebook page which can be useful as there will probably be plenty of photos of their horses on there and you’ll get a good ‘feel’ of what the place is like.
Make a short list of likely riding schools which are within a sensible travelling distance and give them a call. It’s well worth going for a look round before you actually book a lesson. You very often get a vibe for somewhere the minute you walk on the yard and you can’t do this just over the phone.
What to look for
When you arrive at the riding school for your tour, what sort of reception do you get? It’s off-putting if the yard is deserted or the staff appear disinterested, unfriendly or too busy to be bothered with you.
At a working riding school you wouldn’t expect the yard to be pristine without a speck of shavings or a single strand of haylage on it but it should be tidy and clean. There should not be piles of mucking out tools lying around or rubbish strewn everywhere. The stables should be well cared for and tidy; not full of dirty bedding and festooned with cobwebs.
Likewise, their occupants should be contented, friendly, reasonably clean and relaxed in their surroundings and should appear healthy and interested in what’s going on. Take note of the horses’ overall condition. Are their feet neatly trimmed? Are they well covered with glossy, well groomed coats? Observe how they are treated by the stable staff. Have a look at the tack room; is the tack clean and in good condition?
Check out the riding arena in which lessons are held. Make sure it’s big enough and look at the surface. Is there a deep ‘idiot track’ around the outside or has it been recently leveled? Is it fenced or open? If you’re interested in jumping, are there enough jumps and are they in good, safe condition?
It’s usually a good indication of how a yard is run if there are rules posted prominently at the entrance. The obvious one is, ‘No Smoking’. There should also be instructions about not running or shouting and behaving calmly around the horses. Some yards don’t allow dogs so take note of this if you were planning on bringing yours with you.
Is there anywhere you can get a drink or snack? And importantly, is there a loo and somewhere you could get changed if you’re coming for a lesson straight from work?
If you’ve not already established the following via the riding school’s website, remember to ask:
What are their charges for lessons and do they offer group sessions as well as private ones? Do they have experienced horses suitable for what you want to do? Steady plodders are great for beginners but may be too sedate if you wanted to do some jumping or faster hacking out. What qualifications and experience do their instructors have? Can you use your own horse if you want to?
Ask if you can watch a lesson. There should be no objection to this as long as the client does not mind. It’s useful to listen to the instructor’s style of teaching as you’ll get a good idea from this as to whether you’d feel happy being taught in this way. Do they come across as professional but approachable and encouraging? Does the person having the lesson appear confident and having fun? Have a chat with them afterwards and ask how they’re progressing; this can be quite revealing!
The riding school my other half and I chose is quite local and has a good reputation. The horses are beautiful; well-mannered and sensible and our instructor is patient, positive and encouraging. My beginner OH is having a brilliant time and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it so far. Roll on Friday and our next visit to Willington Riding Stables!