The National Schools Equestrian Association (NSEA), founded in 1991, is an organisation that that promotes and recognises equestrian sport in state and independent schools and colleges throughout the UK and provides opportunities for intra-school equestrian competition.
On its website, the association explains: “It has spent many years working to develop good relations with non-horsey head teachers in order that they may gain a better understanding of their pupils who spend many hours pursuing their passion for horses and whom would like to represent their school in equestrian sports in the same way as hockey/netball.” It also encourages schools to count pupils’ participation in equestrian sport as PE credit, the same as any other sport.
The NSEA holds competitions, with classes for every rider, from those with little horse experience to accomplished equestrians. Pupils can compete in the three Olympic disciplines — dressage, showjumping, eventing — as well as arena eventing and grassroots, the latter aimed at students who have never ridden before. They can compete over jumping courses from 40-70cm, some of which can be led, and walk-trot dressage tests.
There’s also ‘pop-up dressage,’ which allows students to compete in dressage without ever leaving their own yard. Riders are filmed riding a test in a 20x40m arena from ‘C,’ and videos are sent to the NSEA to be judged. Judge sheets, rosettes, and prizes are sent out each month, and the top eight horse-rider combinations qualify for the pop-up dressage finals, held in April during the NSEA dressage championships.
For standard dressage, students can ride tests from walk-trot to British Dressage medium level, and for showjumping, they can ride courses from 40cm at grassroots, up to 1.20m. Eventers can gain NSEA points at recognised British Eventing (BE) competitions anywhere in the country at four levels — BE80, BE90, BE100, and novice. Points are collated over the year, and riders can win prizes and compete against one another at NSEA Championships. The NSEA also runs its own one-day events, run around approved BE courses.
NSEA and school riding clubs not only give school-age children a chance to compete against one another, it has made riding accessible for students who can’t afford their own horses. Some affiliated schools have their own facilities. These include Mayfield in East Sussex, which has seen its pupils go on to compete at Badminton, Sidcot in Somerset, and Knighton in Dorset, but there are too many for an exhaustive list. Other schools partner with local stables, and pupils without horses can take lessons on school horses. Walton High, for instance, a school in Milton Keynes, requires a £20 fee for joining and students pay £12 for an hour lesson, and £17 if they use a school horse.
However, not every school has access to school horses, and pupils who want to compete usually need their own or a loaned horse, as they are required at competitions — same as normal BD, BE, or BS shows. In this sense, NSEA does not work like the university-level BUCS circuit, where students ride horses provided by the competition venue.
If you want your school to join NSEA, you first need a member of staff on board, preferably with an interest in horses or at least willing to support the idea. That person will be the team manager, so they’ll remain involved after the team is established. You also need potential student team members to express interest. Once you’ve established the above two criteria, you need to approach the school’s head teacher and get their permission to set up a team, and they need to complete the NSEA membership form.
With the go-ahead from the head, you can select a riding captain from the students, and then find a qualified riding instructor to work as the team trainer. This person must be willing to hold regular team practices, go to competitions, walk courses, etc.
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Then permission slips must be sent to the parents, which state the financial obligations (who pays for entry fees, training. All of this is up to the individual school), competition dates, and parents must agree to be present and responsible for their children at competitions. With everything signed, the head can send in the application form. When it’s processed, you get a membership number and membership badges for all team members, and then you can enter the competitions. The NSEA emphasises that all DBS checks for any adult involved with the team, including riding instructors and parents, must be done by the school.
After that, it’s a case of happy competing!
All information and membership forms can be found at the NSEA website: www.nsea.org.uk
For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, and in the latest issue, out today (13 June), you can read our special feature about top riders who attended college or university in an equestrian capacity.