Finding the right riding school

By Wendy Talbot on 05 June 2017

It’s generally agreed that horses are good for your health and good for your soul, even if sometimes they are not so helpful for your pocket. Riding unites people of all ages and from all walks of life and invariably there is no turning back once you are hooked. The writer Monica Dickens said:

“If you have it, it is for life. It is a disease for which there is no cure. You will go on riding even after they have to haul you onto a comfortable wise old cob with feet like inverted buckets and a back like a fireside chair.”

So where do you start?

Choosing the right riding school is essential to make sure that your very first riding adventure leaves you hungry for more. You need a good experience on a healthy, willing horse, with clear instruction from a qualified instructor, in a safe environment.

In the UK we are lucky enough to have two organisations that maintain the standards of our riding schools and the quality of instruction they provide. The British Horse Society (BHS) and the Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS) inspect their member schools every year so any approval should be current so these are the best places to start.

What to consider when choosing a riding school

Once you have spotted a potentially suitable riding school nearby it’s a good idea to pay a visit to check it out. If you like what you see you can usually book a taster lesson before signing up for a course.

Inside or outside?

It’s normal practice to learn the basics within the confines of an arena, often referred to as a manège.  It’s a large, safe space, which is usually fenced and has a special shock-absorbing surface that’s comfortable for a horse to move in. Some riding schools have covered arenas, which are great for wet weather or for winter lessons after dark.  This can be handy if you are trying to fit lessons around work or school but bear in mind that many outdoor arenas will often have lights too, for riding after dark.

Want to watch?

Bigger riding schools sometimes have viewing galleries or arena seating – perfect if you have family who want to watch you progress or if you want to keep an eye on your children while they learn.

Shiny happy horses

Horses come in all types and sizes and it’s important to learn to ride on one that suits you both in terms of size and temperament. The horses should look healthy and happy in their work and their saddles and bridles should be in good condition and look comfortable for the horse. A happy, healthy horse is a much easier horse to learn on.

 Choosing an Instructor

Finding the right instructor to suit your character is key to enjoying and progressing with your riding. If you are timid you may prefer to be nurtured gently whereas if you are confident and ambitious you might like to be pushed a little harder.

Booking the right lesson

You can choose from private or group lessons. The former may cost more but often it’s a great way to learn the ropes before you move on to the fun of group lessons.

What to wear for your first riding lesson

While you won’t want to be ‘all the gear and no idea’ on day one it’s important to dress for comfort and safety. Close fitting but stretchy trousers will help you to sit well in the saddle and smooth soled boots with small heels will help keep your feet secure in the stirrups. Your riding school should be able to lend you a properly fitting riding hat for the first few lessons. It won’t be long before you are hooked and then you can ask your instructor for advice on buying your own hat, boots and jodhpurs.

As Winston Churchill said: There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” After your first lesson, you’ll know why.



Horse Quotations edited by Helen Exley, Exley Publications Ltd 1991



Wendy graduated from Bristol University in 1999. She then went on to complete a residency at Liverpool University and holds a European Diploma in Equine Internal Medicine. After working in practice for 13 years, she joined Zoetis in 2012 as the National Equine Veterinary Manager.

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