The new Aintree International Equestrian Centre in Merseyside has opened its doors for the first time to give 300 budding young riders an introduction to horses.
Every day last week (25 – 29 June) 60 pupils, who were mostly aged nine, were invited from 17 local schools to experience a day of equestrian activity and learning at the centre.
Andrew Tulloch, equestrian centre director, said: Some of the children had never had the opportunity to ride a horse before, but everyone partook. It was fascinating how quickly they picked things up. Hopefully two or three of them will one day become jockeys.
Each day began with a 1.5hr lesson on how to care for a pony and its tack, before the children had 20min sitting on the ponies and being lead round the arena at walk and sometimes trot.
In the afternoon, former jockeys Carrie Ford and Derek Byrne showed the young riders around the weighing room, winners enclosure, and the racecourse itself. They were also shown the rows of boots, breeches and silks, and taught about the handicap system.
Mr Tulloch explained the idea behind the initiative: We want to dispel any myth that equestrianism is an unobtainable sport and encourage children to believe that they can try something different, beyond the school and playing field, that is both physically educating and exciting.
The project was piloted by Aintree Racecourse Developments Ltd, The School Sport Partnership, and the British Horseracing Education Standards Trust (BHEST).
The state of the art centre, costing £4.6m (news, 14 June), will be officially opened on Tuesday 31 July. It will offer subsidised riding to local children, and host international, national and local shows.