How rising interest in hobby-horsing could benefit equestrian industry

  • Hobby-horsing may be seen as amusing to some – but the explosion in its popularity in the UK may have benefits for the equestrian industry.

    In 2018, Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) ran a story about a new HOYS hobby horse of the year championship as an April Fool. But such an event is being held at Arena UK this November and more than 100 people have already entered.

    It is hoped that as well as providing benefits in terms of socialising and exercise, the sport may benefit the horse world by introducing people to riding, as well as supporting show centres.

    Joanna Rowe founded the British Hobby Horse Competition Club as her daughter Rosie wanted to compete with her hobby horse and organises shows, including the hobby horse of the year event at Arena UK this autumn.

    She told H&H the sport is not yet as big as it is on the Continent, but it is growing.

    “It is happening!” she said. “Some equestrians think it’s ridiculous, but others are more open-minded and I think the more people see it, the more it’ll be accepted.”

    Joanna’s and Rosie’s is a horsey family, and Rosie competes at British Showjumping events as well as with her hobby horse. And Joanna said other young riders do the same.

    “So many children have come to shows with their hobby horses and it’s given them the confidence to get out on their real ponies,” she said. “One little girl at our first show was very nervous, now she’s joined the Pony Club.”

    Ms Rowe said Arena UK general manager Teresa Stratford had been “absolutely brilliant” to deal with, and Ms Stratford told H&H she was looking forward to the championship. Arena UK hosted the British Show Pony Society (BSPS) winter championships last month, at which hobby horse competitions were run for children as a new initiative this year.

    “I got a feel for how popular it was; the children were queuing for it and had bigger smiles than when they were riding their normal ponies!” she said. “We’re up for anything that will help get our name on the map and bring in new people; it’s a whole new audience, and from little acorns grow big trees.

    “They might start on hobby horses and before you know it, they’re on ponies, then moving up the levels. It’s a hard slog, running a show centre, so anything that brings in a new audience is greatly appreciated. Good on them.”

    The British Horse Society (BHS) said hobby horses are a great way to introduce people to the equestrian world.

    “While it is a great exercise for cardiovascular fitness, it is also a very accessible way for young people to get a taste for the equestrian world,” BHS head of business support Steph Geran told H&H. “Not to mention that they are a great educational tool.

    “At the BHS, we run our hobby horse derby at shows, including at Bramham International Horse Trials where we will be this year’s charity of the year. We’ve found this to be really popular and a great conversation starter with families.

    “We also use hobby horses as part of our Henry the Horse teaching sessions, as a visual aid to educate children around how to pass horses safely on our roads. It’s proven to be very effective and a brilliant way to engage young people in all things equestrianism.”

    BSPS secretary Karen Ward told H&H the society introduced hobby horse competitions to bring together junior members, families and friends together to have fun and build community spirit.

    “Our hobby horse competitions do have the potential to lead some young children and their parents into thinking about riding real ponies and even entering the showing world,” she said.

    “We recognise that it is a big step, practically as well as financially, from owning and riding a hobby horse to owning and riding a real pony. Nevertheless, we appreciate that hobby horses do have the potential to raise awareness and bring more people into the showing world but only if individual finances and other practical considerations allow.”

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