The new school term is not such a blow when ponies are on the agenda. We round up the horsey prep schools that we wish we had attended
1. The Elms Worcestershire
Fees (day, per term): from £2,935 (reception) to £6,550 (years four to eight).
Facilities: 150 acres for ponies and Hereford cows, large outdoor arena, hacking on the Malverns and a small cross-country course.
Opportunities: National Schools Equestrian Association (NSEA) competitions with training sessions. Children ride in games and break times, Sundays and summer evenings. Hunting is firmly on the timetable. Many former alumni are now in point-to-pointing — “We had an Elms one-two-three in one race last year,” points out Sarah Austen, a classics teacher involved in the riding scene. “The equestrian activity involving the most children is hunting. I took 51 children hunting last season, aged from six to 13.” The children have their own puppy show, where they learn to judge hounds, receive their hunting colours ties and a master’s prize is awarded.
2.Queen Mary’s School, North Yorkshire
Fees: from £2,430 (reception) to £5,225 (years seven to eight).
Facilities: 40x60m floodlit outdoor arena, 30 acres, 15 stables and two open barns, with full livery, DIY or working livery options.
Opportunities: riding from reception age, catering for children on the lead rein to affiliated competitors. “We encourage boarders to take care of their own ponies, often with a midweek lesson,” says stables manager Emma Swinburn. The school runs an annual show and has qualified for the NSEA championships four years in a row, fielding two national champions.
3. Knighton House, Dorset
Fees: from £2,325 (reception) to £5,460 (years four to eight).
Facilities: 20 acres for equestrian use, 15 stables, arena, showjumping field, cross-country course up to 2ft 6in, plus “hacking across the stunning Dorset countryside”.
Opportunities: pupils can start riding in year two. “The majority of the girls ride, it’s a big part of school life,” says Knighton’s Tory Williams. “The boarders bring all the ponies in each morning before breakfast. There is nothing better than going with the girls to collect the ponies first thing with the mist rolling off the hills, the sun just breaking through — it is a wonderful start to the day.” Children partake in NSEA and in-school competitions — gymkhanas, a handy pony two-day event and a pre-prep hat-decorating contest — that encourage children to “have a go”.
4. Sandroyd, Wiltshire (pictured above)
Fees: from £2,760 per term.
Facilities: a 500-acre estate with an outdoor arena, showjumping field and cross-country course, American barn with four stables and eight stalls.
Opportunities: “Riding fits into the pupils’ day,” says Sandroyd’s Tom Blomfield. “Lessons are available in activities or games sessions. There is evening riding, team training and morning breaks grooming ponies.” Competitions or hacking are on offer at weekends. Sandroyd hosts the national prep schools’ tetrathlon.
5. Hanford, Dorset
Fees: from £5,800 per term.
Facilities: nine acres, grade-II listed Jacobean stables and characterful pony boxes, indoor riding school, manège, plus junior cross-country course.
Opportunities: Hanford’s Candice Raby says: “Almost all the children will ride once a week, and those that don’t will still head to the stables to groom and hang out.” Opportunities to compete include the Sandroyd tetrathlon and NSEA showjumping competitions.
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6. Stonar School, Wiltshire
Fees: from £2,710 (reception) to £4,875 (years seven to eight).
Facilities: a British Horse Society highly commended training facility — stabling for 65 horses, Olympic-sized outdoor school, indoor school, cross-country schooling field and courses and off-road hacking track.
Opportunities: “Pupils can ride at any level, from those on their first pony to international competitors,” says Stonar’s Rebecca Whincup. “From year five, boarders can bring their pony. Those who don’t can loan or become a stable helper in return for free riding sessions. Pupils are encouraged to compete in Stonar’s inter-schools one-day event and there is also a weekly accumulator competition.