Where to Go
From my experience, the e-mail's I get, and the messages that have been posted on the Message Board the standard of teaching at riding schools can vary enormously. Often the least experienced instructors can be teaching the least experienced riders - not an ideal combination! Also, not all instructors have the range of skills to teach a group of 9 year olds and then switch to a more nervous adult.
I'm not saying this to put you off. Far from it. One of the aims of this site is to let the new rider know what to expect, how best to approach riding and also to know when they are being let down.
If you go into any new interest with little prior knowledge then you are dependant upon those you meet and instruct you, and with little else to go on, you will assume what they are saying is correct. Many of the ways and attitudes of teaching (at least in the UK) need to improve and hopefully armed with information from this site and our Kinder Way to Ride series, you'll be able to quickly spot the good schools and also ask the sort of questions that will promote the best out of the teachers. After all, it's your money.
There are two main organisations in the UK that have an approval scheme for schools the British Horse Society (BHS) and the Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS). Their approval would ideally be a reliable guide to choosing a school but from personal experience and feedback from readers of this site it leaves a lot to be desired. There are many good approved schools out there who do a great job but don't assume that approval is a guarantee of quality, it is not. If you can get a recommendation from someone who already rides, so much the better.
To help you find schools in your area (approved and non-approved) we have compiled our own listing of UK riding schools. There are over 1000 establishments listed, searchable by region or name. We do not recommend, approve or endorse any of the schools listed but many of them have provided extra information which we hope will help in making your choice.
Whichever school you pick it highly recommended that you go and have a look around before booking any lessons. A good school should welcome this and treat you as any business would a new potential long term customer. Following are some pointers to assess the school by.
If it's your first visit, does someone meet you, show you around, explain what they do and how it runs?
Even if your knowledge of horses is limited at this time go on your first impressions: does the place look clean and tidy, do the horses look well, does it seem organised, are the people friendly?
Ask to watch a lesson to see how the instructors work with a class. Are they clear and confident with the students, does it look like they are working to a plan, are they supportive to all the riders, would you get on with them?
Be wary of instructors who urge people to 'kick harder', shout (except in the case of emergencies), use vague terms like 'sit deeper' without explaining exactly what to do.
Check that there is a range of horses suitable for you. For example, because I am at the higher end of weight and height for riding it's important that the school has several horses capable of carrying me. Some schools which are biased towards children and teenagers may not have a full range of horses for adults.
Not all schools have the facility of a covered or indoor arena. So with the vagaries of the British weather a well drained outdoor school is essential. Special surface mixes which include rubber and P.V.C dry quickly and are rideable when the fields are thick in mud. Outdoor lighting will allow lessons to be held during weekday evenings, which may suit a lot of working people.
Next - what to expect to pay.