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How to choose a riding school?

Having been a riding instructor since 2002 and riding since 1992, Can you recommend a riding school? Is a question I get asked a lot!! My reply is that there are several good ones around, so it depends on your budget and where you want your journey to go. With the ever-increasing cost of living it is important we make the right choices when looking at our children's hobbies, below are all the considerations I mention to people in replying to the above question.

The first consideration is what do you wish your child to achieve through these lessons? Is the end goal for them to have a pony or will it be a lifelong love of riding school ponies? This will influence where you go and the facilities the school has. If your child has recently watched the Olympics and wants to jump the big wooden fences you need a center with cross-country jumps. On the other hand, you want to ensure the center isnt going to rush your child, if your child is less outgoing a smaller center may be more appropriate.

Ask around friends and family if they know anywhere, social media is brilliant but remember for every bad experience there will be several good that people won’t share

What's your budget? Lesson range from £15 to £45 Some bigger centers will offer group lessons that are slightly cheaper whereas your smaller centers may work mainly on 1-to-1s, you will find that progression will be faster on a 1 to 1 basis however riding in a group is a skill in itself and so group lessons should be an option when your child reaches that standard.

Do you mind being outside or do you need to find somewhere with an indoor school? Bear in mind horses are expensive to keep and riding schools rely on filling their days to keep the horses well fed and pay their staff wages extra. Lessons won't be canceled at the slightest bit of rain, and most places will not refund sessions if canceled less than 24 hours in advance, therefore if you do not want to be out in all weather look for a riding school with an indoor school, though in my experience these are like riding in a fridge in the winter and an oven in the summer. My best advice is to invest in some cheap waterproof overalls when they have them in the middle aisle of Aldi.

How will you get there? Can you drive or would you need to look for one on a bus route, how much time do you have to fit a lesson in, Lessons tend to range from 20-minute sessions for the younger children to 45 min for adults and more advanced riders. 30-minute sessions are what most schools offer and when you are first learning this is more than adequate, the time you have to fit a lesson in will depend on how far you can travel.

What time/ day do you want your lessons? - when you first make contact with the school ask if they have availability on the days that you need, it may be they have a waiting list you can join and they will happily chat with you regarding other questions, however, if you can only ride on a Sunday and they have a waiting list of a year-long for Sunday lessons there probably isnt much point asking any further questions, unless your happy to join this list and wait for them to contact saying they have a space. A waiting list is a good sign of a successful school.

Does the rider have any additional needs? If so ensure the center is set up to accommodate these needs.

The first place to look for a riding school is the British Horse Society or Association of British Riding Schools website they have lists of their approved centers. To be on the list the center has to go through yearly checks that cover pony health, staff qualifications, DBS checks, safeguarding, and first aid. Centers have to be insured and risk assessments have to be carried out. They also have to have certain facilities that are well maintained. You can find more information on the above websites.

Once you have made a short list of schools within your area, contact them and ask the following questions

Confirm the price, website or social media sites may have old prices on, and on confirming the price centers may advise if an increase is imminent.

 Where do the lessons take place, a good riding school will have plenty of pictures on social media and their website, going back to considering the weather and where you are willing to ride.

Explain your end goal with the lessons - A good riding school will let you know if they can help you achieve these goals.

 Ask if they have equipment such as hats and boots you can borrow. Most schools have hats and a few have boots, they may ask for a donation for the hats to help with the upkeep and replacement of them

During the initial conversation, they should advise you on where to go upon arrival and who to speak to. Some centers are happy for you to roam and stroke the horses, while others ask you to wait in a designated area, this is no reflection on the center and there is no right or wrong with this, it is all down to each center's personal preference and what they find works for them. Remember centers can be busy places with lots going on, at the foremost of any decision they make and the rules they put in place are to keep their horses, their staff, and the clients safe.

Most riding schools offer an online booking system so they will get you to fill in a client registration fom online, this saves time on arrival, helps to meet with GPDR, and is an efficient way to keep details up to date. If they don't have an online system then you should be asked to fill one in on arrival. Alongside this form there will also be a personal disclaimer to sign, riding is an risky sport and for all instructors try our best to keep you on board, we hate filling accident forms in, and accidents do happen.

When you arrive at the center for your first lesson these are a few points you should expect from the center and their staff

Be greeted by a smiling helpful member of staff.

Be shown where the hats are and help to fit one.

 If you haven't already done one online they should get you to fill in a client form

Be shown where the lesson will take place and explained where you should wait for your lesson

You should be introduced to your instructor.

How do you know your have chosen a good riding school?

    Ponies neatly turned out

    Clean tack that is in good repair

    A well-organised yard, you may arrive halfway through morning beds and there may be tools in use and the yard not swept but it will be obvious where this is the case

Hats should be up to standard you can find this information on the British Horse Society website.

You have had a fun lesson and found a rapport with your instructor, Don't be afraid to try different instructors at the center, we all have our style but our main aim is to see you succeed.

What to expect at the end of a lesson - to be thanked by your instructor, for the yard staff to acknowledge you and ask if you enjoyed your lesson.

For someone to explain how to rebook, this may be the instructor or the yard manager on duty that day.

Don't be afraid to ask questions and go with your gut, riding is a personal journey and you have to find the center that fits you. Check out my course on 5 things you should know before your lesson and for more pony care information become a member of NV Kids Club.

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