Horse riding is not just for the well off – and we need to keep it this way!
If you are an equestrian, a lover of all things ‘horse’, this article must raise some concerns in your mind about the longevity of this wonderful recreation and career.
I write this article as someone who started my journey and love of horses as a little girl at a riding school.
Coaxing my non-horsey parents into the weekly riding lessons schedule, they soon realised their greatest fear, I wanted my own horse! After enduring years of me badgering my parents, my older brother (10 years my senior) bought me a horse and the rest of my story falls into a blissful blur...
The boy I met in the back of the riding school van that collected us for riding lessons at the age of 11 and 12, would become my husband, and those wedding rings would band together our love of horses as we pursued many different aspects of the sport. Our two daughters would sit on horses before they could walk, and we would raise them through the highs and lows of competitive equestrian sports.
Our children learned, without doubt, empathy, confidence and self-control from these animals. It necessitated the healthy development of their physical and mental health too - these being intrinsic values of working with horses.
My story is not too dissimilar to many of you reading this with equestrian interests and possibly raising your own children around these great teachers of self-awareness.
We all ignited our passion for horses somewhere, and in most cases, it started at our local riding school that we’d drive past, gazing longingly over the fences at the ponies with unquestionable enchantment. But fellow equestrians, do you realise that a viable future for our riding centres has never been more uncertain?
Why? You may ask. Crippling insurance premiums; health & safety regulation; spiralling business rates; complex licensing; staffing issues; suitably trained ponies & horses; mountains of paperwork; ‘Comp Culture’; lack of technology; day-to-day running costs escalating.
Speaking with local riding centres, they say that their business will end when they do, as their children have little desire to carry on the family business under the current trends of 17-hour work days, 7 days a week, just managing to scratch a living.
These social gems in our society are faltering, and if we do not support and recognise their value for this generation of children, it will engender the demise of equestrian sports as we know them today.
It is from the grassroot level riding schools that the love and support for horse riding is nurtured. Most families only have a certain amount of disposable income and unless we keep riding centres affordable and viable with all the good that they offer the community, parents will see their money being spent on the latest smartphones and marketing ploys feeding our children through ‘social’ online platforms.
Horse riding must avoid becoming the exclusive domain of the wealthy and the only way to achieve that is participation of everybody. If the general public are more and more excluded, then we lose the narrative of how horse riding is perceived and the narrative will start to be formulated by people who have no idea about the benefits of horse riding and the welfare of the horse.
There are solutions to the issues facing riding centres today, we just have to want and feel the need to implement them.
To be continued...
(My next article will look at ways of achieving this.)