The parents of an eight-year-old boy who died in a riding accident in the US are appalled to learn that UK riding instructors do not, by law, require formal qualifications.

Christine Moss and Terry Wilcox’s son Hugh Moss-Wilcox, known as Ted, died in hospital on 14 April, after an accident while riding on holiday with his father and siblings Jack and Amy in Missouri.

When you take your child to a riding school you assume the instructor is trained,” said Mr Wilcox, of Wimborne, Dorset.

An inquest at Chelmsford, Essex, on 27 July, was told that their horses spooked and Ted’s saddle became dislodged. He slipped sideways, his hat fell off and he was kicked in the head as he hung from the saddle by a plastic stirrup.

Ms Moss said: “They [the centre] knew the children had not ridden before. They asked if we wanted helmets, but left it up to us to fit them — I thought his [Ted’s] was a bit loose, but thought it would be OK.”

She said the instructor fell off and the other horses panicked.

The family is taking legal action, but Ms Moss fears similar safety failings occur in the UK. It is not known what qualifications the US instructor holds.

By law UK riding centres are inspected annually by a council officer and vet but the person running the stables needs only to “have experience in the management of horses”.

Some local authorities such as Luton Borough Council require the manager to hold a qualification. And British Horse Society (BHS) or Association of British Riding Schools accredited riding centres must have a trained instructor.

Chris Doran of the BHS said: “All BHS-accredited yards have to have at least one member of staff at AI level. It would be a big step forward if this was the case for all centres.”

A Defra spokesman said it had no plans at present to change the law on this.

This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (18 August, 2011)