Despite the overall number of riders falling over the past few years, figures show “significant growth” in young people riding.

The British Equestrian Trade Association’s 2015 survey found the number of riders aged between 16 and 24 had risen from 368,000 in 2011 to 403,000 in 2015 — an increase of 35,000.

This was despite total rider numbers dropping from 3.5m to 2.7m.

The Pony Club and riding schools have long served as introductions to the equestrian world for young riders.

With more than 28,000 members in the UK in 2014, the Pony Club is invaluable for young horse enthusiasts. As well as these, it has more than 14,000 centre members across the world — these are young riders without their own horse or pony who ride at a riding school linked to the Pony Club.

But alongside this, individual sporting bodies are coming up with their own ways of supporting young riders too.

Opportunities for all

Racing leads the way in giving young people from all backgrounds a solid entry into the industry.

The British Racing School (BRS), founded in 1983, has trained more than 3,500 young people on its level two diploma (formally NVQ2) course, who have gone on to work in the industry.

This figure does not include those who have completed the school’s other courses.

The apprenticeship diploma, funded by the government and the racing industry, welcomes students from all walks of life.

Operations manager Clare Kingston told H&H it is “really important” to the BRS that the training remains free for the students.

“The majority of the population come from urban areas and might not have access to horses,” she told H&H. “But that doesn’t mean they cannot learn to love the sport, regardless of personal experience and financial situation.”

In total, the BRS has 42 courses currently advertised on its website — ranging from summer camps to courses in bookkeeping right up to obtaining various jockey licences.

At the younger end is the pony racing academy, for eight- to 15-year-olds. Funded by the Racing Foundation and individual sponsors, the 12-week scheme is again free.

“This is a really important way to allow children that would not normally be involved in racing to have free training,” Ms Kingston said.

The Northern Racing College also offers free tuition on its 12-week residential foundation course — open to complete beginners and experienced riders. Like the BRC, it also runs other programmes.

The idea of making racing more accessible is also being developed by the Pony Racing Authority (PRA).

The PRA was founded in 2007 as a governing body for the sport. In 2014, it started a youth scheme for 11- to 14-year-olds who do not have their own ponies.

Currently, it has schemes running in Gloucester and Banbury, and aims to establish more in other cities, such as Glasgow. Of the five children on the first scheme, one is now a point-to-point jockey and three others work in the industry.

“None of them would have gone into racing without this scheme because they did not know about the sport,” PRA’s Clarissa Daly told H&H.

“Some of the children we are getting now have been riding in Pony Club centres, looking for something else to do.”

She added it is “vital” the scheme remains free for the benefit of the children, industry and pony racing as a whole.

“By giving these children an opportunity, even if they just do one race, they have had a taste of something they would not have had a chance to do otherwise,” she said.

Sporting success

Last year the British squad at the pony European Dressage Championships made history by winning team gold — the first time Team GBR has won at this level.

The British Young Riders’ Dressage Scheme, set up in the 1980s, provides support and training for all members at their own level from the age of six.

“I would hope there is something for everybody,” said British Dressage’s (BD) Karen Ryder. “I think it is very important to give that support, especially at the lower levels and for the younger riders.

“It takes the pressure off a little bit: they can compete against others at the same level as them — it is meant to be fun.”

As well as this, BD has support for riders who want to “go professional”.

The organisation is also trying to find a way of supporting keen youngsters who may not have their own horse.

“It is not easy,” she said. “We are looking at having riding schools more involved.”

Over the past 30 years the British youth eventing squads have won more than 100 medals at European level.

British Eventing’s (BE) Chris Farr said the youth teams have been “phenomenally successful”.

“It is absolutely essential to have a fully-supported and well structured process for any rider coming in,” he told H&H.

He said the opportunities for young people coming into the sport have expanded and developed.

Formerly called the junior regional novice (JRN) initiative, the under-18 programme has regional training and competitions for riders from the age of 12 — but you do need your own horse. There is also a clear route for riders to move to high-performance schemes and aim for international teams.

BE launched its charitable arm in 2014 to give both members and non-members, of all ages, more training opportunities.

“The Try Eventing days and the Go BE80/90 courses are all intended at welcoming and introducing people to the sport,” Mr Farr added.

What next?

Like dressage and eventing, British Showjumping (BS) has schemes to support young people in the sport.

London 2012 gold medallist Peter Charles recently raised the idea of helping young riders to reach the top end of the sport, by showcasing their talent where the right owners and sponsors will see them.

He suggested that Olympia’s under-23s championship be expanded into a full “young lions” tour (comment, 11 February).

His idea is to run classes for talented young riders at some of the bigger shows, like Hickstead, Olympia and Windsor.

Young up-and-coming talent is always interesting,” he told H&H. “If these youngsters could be seen alongside the seniors at senior shows, their exposure would be greater.”

Ref: H&H 3 March, 2016