The horsey herd will get their fill of Thelwell capers at these equestrian friendly schools, says Anoop Bhuller
Nine Schools for Equestrian Enthusiasts
Hanford – Child Okeford, Dorset
Riding is central to the girls’ lives at Hanford. The stables, in a grade II listed Elizabethan barn, are a hive of activity. There are about 30 ponies at Hanford, some girls bring their own and others belong to the school or staff. In the summer term, Hanford’s famous ‘Early Morning Rides’ before breakfast are a privilege enjoyed by the older girls and create memories that last a lifetime. No doubt the tradition will continue under the new Head, Hilary Phillips, a keen horsewoman, who admits to being impressed by the stables, and joined this year, says, ‘Building a relationship with a pony helps with self-confidence and self-control, builds patience and encourages problem solving skills.’
Myddelton College – Denbigh, Wales
Two years ago, Myddleton launched its ‘Pony Stars’ programme in association with the British Horse Society. Pony Stars is not just about pony care and riding, the programme covers lots of practical topics such as the countryside, farm animals, kindness, leadership and conservation. Facilities are excellent with two 20 metres by 40 metres all-weather arenas and a ten-acre field with easy access to a network of bridle paths in the surrounding Vale of Clwyd countryside. Many pupils have gone on to achieve awards and win competitions such as the year 6 pupil Georgia who won the 128cm Hickstead Royal International Qualifier, at Aintree Pony Premier this year.
Haberdashers’ Monmouth – Monmouth, Wales
With a thriving group of keen riders, who compete regularly throughout the year, Haberdashers’ Monmouth is proud to match its academic success with equestrian triumphs. As members of the National Schools Equestrian Association (NSEA) and of School Equestrian Games (SEG), it enters teams and individuals in competitions for eventing, show jumping, dressage, and one-day events, as well as participating in other local school events. Students take riding lessons with dedicated trainers at Triley Fields Equestrian Centre near Abergavenny. And ability doesn’t matter: lessons run from beginner to advanced, after school.
Hurst College – Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex
Show jumping dominates at Hurst, where there are close links with the world-famous All England Jumping Course at Hickstead, it has sponsored the National Schools Show Jumping Championships since 2009, as well as hosting an annual Invitational Schools Show Jumping Competition. But there are opportunities here for all pupils, whatever the discipline, from beginners up. Around 40 pupils represent the College in show jumping, dressage and eventing at local and national competitions.
Cranleigh – Cranleigh, Surrey
Competition rules at Surrey’s Cranleigh School. Last year, the co-educational boarding and day school scooped three national titles; two national Silvers; three national Bronzes; six Surrey titles; numerous regional wins; and third place in the Services Challenge at Royal Windsor. Cranleigh riders are already competing at the highest levels, with sisters Annie and Kristy Vitek impressing on the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) circuit in Europe, riding for their national Czech Republic team; DB Marcus gaining GB selection for dressage and Year 10 and 12 pupils, Tara Moore and Issy Hollidge, representing the U18 South East team at the BE Youth Championships.
Queen Margaret’s – Escrick, York
Paddocks filled with horses adorn the driveway of Queen Margaret’s School for Girls in York. The school, for girls aged 11-18, is set in 75 acres of Yorkshire parkland and the QM Riding School is well equipped for students to either learn on one of its horses or bring their own horse to school with them. Riding lessons are scheduled to fit with academic timetables and pupils can learn the ropes when it comes to stable management. QM girls consistently succeed in the saddle; from a Year 10 girl who has just competed in the BE90 Badminton Grassroots Championships and the Head Girl who competed at Chatsworth International Horse Trials this year, to the sisters who represent Edinburgh Polo Club. A number of the school’s alumnae now compete at the highest level, with some representing Great Britain and winning European gold medals.
Bryanston – Blandford Forum, Dorset
For parents seeking an education that encompasses both academics and quality co-curricular activities, Dorset’s Bryanston is ideal. Equestrian pursuits start young: at Bryanston Prep, children learn the standard disciplines of dressage, show jumping, and cross-country. Plus, they have the chance to participate in mounted games, polo, and hack in the picturesque countryside. Senior school pupils are able to work with their own horses and can ride as their main sport; the school’s coaching team works alongside nationally and internationally renowned coaches and professionals. Facilities at the Equestrian Centre are excellent, with a newly refurbished outdoor arena, indoor school and two full sets of show jumps.
Stonar – Atworth, Wiltshire
Stonar School in Wiltshire is home to one of the UK’s finest riding academies. Whether pupils are complete beginners, who want to ride for fun, or are already riding competitively, Stonar offers an equestrian education for pupils looking to continue their riding development, and can support those studying for equestrian qualifications. Stonar is home to a world-class, British Horse Society-approved equestrian centre, which sits right in the heart of the school, so pupils can easily access the stables throughout the day. With both indoor and outdoor arenas, an extensive hacking track, cross-country course and show jumping field – all for exclusive use by Stonar’s pupils – the school also has stabling for 62 horses. This means pupils are able to bring their horse or pony to school with them if they’d like, or loan one of the school’s 30 horses. Riding fits seamlessly around the school timetable and enables pupils to still contribute to all areas of school life, both inside and outside of the classroom, without neglecting their academic work.
Heathfield – Ascot, Berkshire
Pupils here can take part in an exciting and fun equestrian programme, which includes show jumping, polo, dressage, military riding, hacking out and riding lessons at all levels. Currently, Heathfield is the National Champion at schools’ polo, for which it hires polo ponies. Most pupils leave their horses and ponies at home, but several girls have kept horses at liveries locally. Equestrian alumna include GB Dressage riders Ellie McCarthy and Rose Hugh Smith.