The Stables

Riding In An Era Gone By

I won’t divulge my age on paper but I grew up in what is now a nostalgic time when learning to ride horses and ponies. Through the 1970’s and 1980’s, before health and safety had gone mad, riding was fun and carefree in my opinion.

I started to ride at my local riding school back in the seventies which would now be reminiscent of a Thelwell piece of artwork. It was a bit of a scruffy farm with broken wheelbarrows, old tractors and guttering swinging in the wind type of riding school. We would turn up in our plastic wellies and second hand riding hats longing to see which pony would be given to us to endure the mad half an hour belting round the indoor school. The indoor school would be a loose term used for it as it was just a large corrugated shed that would creak and groan in the wind together with a mud floor.

There would be about eight of us in the lesson and my memories of the half an hour was organised but fun chaos. I was given the same pony nearly every week, and I would spend at least some part of the lesson, hanging in his mane or face down in the mud. No one worried whether I was hurt, in fact my mum would just drop me off and let me get on with it! In those days, there wasn’t a mere mention of insurance, compensation or signing a long solicited letter in order to ride. You just turned up to ride and if you fell off, you just picked yourself up, dusted yourself off and got back on.

Compensation culture is killing the everyday riding school. These days’ attitudes have changed to compensation and many feel it is their right to receive payments for injured legs or a bruised shoulder. This unfortunately, hikes the prices in insurance premiums which the every day riding school of today is struggling to pay. Many are closing down because of this. If you choose to do any sport, especially horse riding you should accept that if you get hurt that is part of the hobby. I remember we used to hack out around the fields of the farm and we would all be clinging on for dear life bombing up and down the hedgerows. Sometimes there were falls that would result in injuries and broken bones but no one worried about it. It was part of horse riding after all.

I know that many riding schools now make the rider sign a disclaimer making them responsible for their own injuries, which I think is the only way a riding school today can avoid this compensation worry. When we were riding over thirty years ago, it wouldn’t have even entered our heads to “sue” the riding school if we fell off and were hurt. Riding schools have been the backbone of equestrianism, providing jockeys, equestrian experts and riders of all spheres. Those carefree horse riding years in the sixties and seventies have produced top riders of today such as Mary King, William Fox-Pitt, Pippa Funnell, The Whitakers and many more. I worry that in the future, this country will be struggling to provide riders at all levels if the starting point of using a riding school is taken away.

Now with modern age indulging in Health and Safety and No Win No Fee Claims, it is so nice to look back to these days and reminisce about Follyfoot, Black Beauty and Flambards. I don’t know about you, but those days I miss…

Written by Samantha Hobden