A local authority in Berkshire is spot-checking riding schools to ensure they comply with legislation on employing children — even if they are just working for rides at weekends.

Regulations laid down in the Children and Young Persons Act (1933) require that under-17s register with their local authority for a work permit except when babysitting, doing odd jobs for neighbours or school-organised work experience.

The fact that many young people only receive payment in kind, such as free lessons, does not place yard work outside the legislation; it also applies if youngsters are working for their parents or other relatives.

Wokingham Borough Council in Berkshire is taking a closer look at children helping out in riding stables.

A council spokesman said: “We believe children who work in this way are actually being employed and therefore should have a work permit.

“We are seeking advice from the National Network for Children in Employment and Entertainment.”

The permits allow councils to keep an eye on the hours that youngsters work. Children under 13 are not allowed to work at all, but between 13 and 15 years old they can do “light work” for up to five hours. At 15, this extends to eight hours on non-school days.

British Horse Society spokesman Chris Doran said local authorities regularly monitor riding schools.

“Our advice to proprietors is to ensure they comply with the rules,” she said. “Setting up a club for formalised training is one solution, but pupils must be registered and supervised.”

Jan Tapper, who runs Bearwood Riding Centre in Wokingham, only has help from older teenagers.

“Most of my helpers are at least 16, so I can pay them properly. My main weekend worker is 18,” she said. “I’m aware of the strict guidelines, and any younger helpers are on our ‘loan a pony scheme’ .”

Nearby Cloud Stables has a kids club where youngsters who want to help on the yard pay a nominal joining fee and accrue points for stable management duties which give free lessons.

“It’s more about training — young people want to help out,” said manager Kate Mockridge.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (5 June, ’08)