The Petplan Equine National Riding Festival aims to encourage new and lapsed riders to give riding a go. Running from now until September, nine riding centres nationwide will be holding festival open days and many others will host special events or offer discounted riding lessons.

For those nervous of trying the real thing, Trigger the mechanical cantering horse will be appearing at events around the UK.

“The festival is the perfect time to introduce someone new to the sport,” said event rider and H&H columnist William Fox-Pitt.

He believes it will help raise the profile of horse sports, and suggests that riders encourage friends and family to have a go.

Antony Wakeham, secretary of the festival, believes it has contributed significantly to the 6.6% growth in the equine industry between 1999 and 2005.

“It cannot be a coincidence that our own figures show that 61% of people taking up riding as a result of the festival become regular clients of riding schools,” he said.

The festival, which is now in its ninth year, is supported by the UK’s major equestrian associations and leading animal welfare charities, including the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH). The ILPH will be running a programme for first-time horse owners, offering advice on how to care for their new horse or pony.

In recognition of the festival’s achievements, the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) has invested £15,000 of Sport England funding in this summer’s campaign.

To find out which riding centres are participating, call the hotline (tel: 0870 241 1481) or visit www.nationalridingfestival.co.uk