Summer holidays may be keenly anticipated by children, but parents face them with a little less relish.
The prospect of occupying horse-mad offspring for weeks on end can be daunting, especially if you’ve left planning to the last second and face a frantic dash for inspiration.
But holiday jaunts need not break the bank, nor even require having your own horse.
And the following list includes something for everyone.
1. Go for a polo lesson
Concentrate young minds by challenging them to try something different. Many polo clubs welcome youngsters. As the weekly training base for the Old Surrey and Burstow Pony Club branch, Sussex Polo Club near Crawley is very family friendly. “We offer lessons for children of about eight upwards from confident young riders to those who have never sat on a horse,” says club manager Charlotte Barratt-McGowan.Private lessons start at £65 an hour. Visit: www.sussexpolo.co.uk
Dorset’s Lytchett Heath polo club also welcomes children from the age of nine for lessons and pony care tuition, while parents may choose to head off for a crab platter at Poole Harbour. A 90min lesson is £45, and a 4hr half-day’s tuition is £120.
2. Get a taste for driving
The British Carriagedriving Junior Summer Camp (12-14 August at Ashfields Carriage Driving Centre in Essex) is open to non-members and children without their own pony. “It’s ever so friendly and a great way for young people who think carriage driving might be something they’d like to get into to meet others and get a taste. The cost is £190, but this would be reduced for someone coming without a pony,” says Zoe Morgan. Book in by 25 July.
3. Own a pony for the day
Many Pony Club centres, affiliated riding schools and other equestrian establishments run “own-a-pony” days in the holidays, including Greenacres Equestrian in Hertfordshire and Runningwell Equestrian Centre in Essex.
Visit www.bhs.org.uk and www.pcuk.org to find local centres.
4. Go on a horsey day trip
Riding somewhere new doesn’t have to entail a sleepover. Why not box offspring and ponies a little further afield to explore new bridleways? Do some research before heading out, ensuring there is somewhere safe to park and the path is actually open. The BHS is again a great source of information and its website includes a route finder. Members register to access this service, which is packed full of regular updates on the state of bridleways, suggested routes and feedback from riders.
Our national parks offer everything from gentle hacks to pulse-raising rides through gorges. The website is extremely comprehensive, suggesting where to park, good routes and where to stay with your horses. Why not explore the new 4½-mile route opened six months ago between Rhd-Ddu and Beddgelert in Snowdonia?
5. On WWI’s centenary, remember our warhorses
Keep inquisitive minds ticking over by checking out an exhibition or event commemorating the outbreak of World War I. Consider “The Horse Drawn War” at the REME Museum of Technology, Aborfield, Berks, until 31 August (www.rememuseum.org.uk) and “Warhorse to Horsepower” at the Tank Museum, Bovington, Dorset (www.tankmuseum.org.uk).
Tickets are available throughout July and August for the stage production of Warhorse at the New London Theatre, Drury Lane. Prices start from £15.
6. Do something for charity
Have a fun and informative day out while helping to raise funds for an equine charity by supporting an open day this summer. These include Greatwood in Wiltshire, which uses horses to help educate disadvantaged children and young adults with special needs. Its open day is on 31 August.
On 17 August Northcote Heavy Horse Centre in Lincolnshire is holding a medieval tournament. Tickets for adults are £5; children pay £3.50.
Why not hold a bring-and-buy sale or kit swap in aid of your Pony Club or a charity? Bromsgrove Blue Cross hosts car boots every other Saturday (26 July, 9 and 23 August). Cars cost £5, vans are £10. Email email@example.com for more information.
7. Get your feet wet
Forget the bucket and spade when heading to the beach, take your boots and chaps instead. Riding on a beach is a real thrill, but requires research and planning. www.bhs.org has a large section dedicated to beach and estuary riding, plus lots of local contact details. It is essential that you check conditions and that riding is allowed.
The Pembrokeshire Coast is a particularly beautiful spot and is well set-up for equine visitors. It boasts 116 miles of public bridleways, as well as horsebox parking.
For a beach ride with a big difference, visit Cumbrian Heavy Horses near Millom. The centre’s steeds are mainly Clydesdales, many over 18hh — so you are unlikely to get soaked.
8. Go racing
Children under 16 go free to Britain’s 58 racecourses and most extend this to under-18s. As well as the horses, funfairs are found at many locations, plus tours of the weighing room and trips to the start.
Look out for the Kids Love The Races roadshow over the summer at which young race fans can design their own racing silks and even have a go on a horse simulator. For lists of venues see www.lovetheraces.com
Or join the Young Hooves Kids Club that operates at 15 courses by visiting www.younghooves.co.uk
Individual courses run their own programmes, such as Ascot’s Colts and Fillies Club.
This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (17 July 2014)