As part of our roles as #U18sRaceFree Ambassadors for Great British Racing, the children have been invited to take horse riding lessons at a local riding school. Whilst Lillie had a horse riding party when she was 8 years old, the boys have never been on the same side of the fence as a horse, so there was much excitement in our house on Sunday morning.
When we arrived at the New Range Riding School, I completed medical cards whilst the children were kitted out with riding hats and introduced to their horses, who were already tacked up and ready to go. The Beans then had to walk their horses out to the menage with the help of their horse leaders.
One Step at a Time
One at a time, the instructor explained to the Beans how to safely approach their horses to mount them and helped them to get up into the saddle. Albie needed a little extra help to get onto his horse Princess and was full of giggles once seated in the saddle.
Building Confidence in the Saddle
Lillie chose to ride first on Shorty Boy, she was instructed to lead Shorty Boy around the menage, and when she felt comfortable, she was to stand in the stirrups and then sit back down. Lillie took to this very quickly, and the boys followed suit when it was their turn, although admittedly, Albie’s bum didn’t raise very far from his saddle – he enjoyed himself nonetheless.
Preparing for the circus?
The next stage of the lesson saw the instructor asking the children to press their heels into the horses flank and give the instruction to ‘trot’ between set markers. As their confidence improved, they could then do this instruction with one hand off the reigns and resting on their knee. Later their hand could be placed out to the side, on their shoulder or their hat. Mum asked me why they were doing this, and I replied that perhaps they were training for the bareback riding in the circus where they jump on and off the horses (obviously, I know this is not the reason).
Exercises in the Saddle
Once the Beans had mastered the basics of riding, they were shown a few different ‘in the saddle’ exercises to improve balance and control. These exercises are designed to improve strength and suppleness so that riding becomes more natural and easier and improving poise.
Round the World
One by one, the Beans took it in turns to keep one hand on the pommel and one hand on the cantel to steady themselves as they rotate themselves one leg at a time so they can turn 360 in their saddle. Facing right, back, left and back to front again.
The half scissors exercise is good for improving suppleness and coordination but must only be carried out with someone holding the horse to keep control. Holding onto the pommel with the left hand, the Beans were instructed to swing their right leg in front of them without kicking the horse in the neck and then slowly manoeuvring themselves onto their tummy across the saddle so that both legs were on the same side of the saddle. Once in position, they had to scissor their legs and then swing their right leg back up over the horse’s back and back up into the saddle.
Lying Backward and Forward
The instructor helped all of the Beans with this exercise; the idea is that they sit deep into the saddle and then lay back onto the horse’s back and then lift back up without using their arms; next, they were told to lean all the way forward to the neck of the horse and back up again. This helps to improve their core strength and balance. This was a tough one!
Horse Massage Time
After carefully dismounting the horses, the Beans (and the horse leaders) walked the horses back to their stables and removed all the tack so the Beans could give each of their horses a welcome finger massage where the saddle had been on their backs. Albie enjoyed this so much he popped into a couple of the other stables to massage some of the other horses.
Treats for hard work
Before we set off for home, the Beans were given carrots or apples to feed to the horses to say thank you. They were shown how to hold the food so that the horse could easily take it without hurting them.
The Beans all thoroughly enjoyed their lessons and are looking forward to attending more in the future. It’s such a lovely activity for them to take part in. I spoke with some of the stable hands who said they try to spend as much of their spare time as possible at the stables, mucking them out, grooming, feeding or riding the horses. Some of them even commented they fully intend to work with horses when they leave school too. From a parents perspective, it’s lovely to see youngsters doing something they love that doesn’t involve staring at a screen but teaches them compassion, responsibility and being outdoors.
More Horse Fun to Come
Our Summer of horses isn’t over yet; we still have another fun family day to look forward to at The July Course in Newmarket. If you haven’t tried it yet, I will urge you to pop along with your family. It’s perfect for everyone from children through to Grandparents. It’s not just about horse racing (although it gets fascinating). They also have lots of fun activities for children to get involved in with the likes of Chase and Marshall from Paw Patrol, Pup Pup Boogie, bouncy castles, circus skills, adventure playgrounds and more. You can take along a picnic, a gazebo and your camping chairs to make yourself comfortable, and with the U18’s Race Free programme, all children get free access when accompanied by a full paying adult. To find out more, head over to the website for details of a racecourse near you. What are you waiting for?