More riders choose heavy horses

  • A riding club has been set up to help heavy horses shake off their “cart horse” image

    If you thought heavy horses were only suitable for use in harness or for showing in-hand, then think again. Sue Everson, founder of the Heavy Horse Riding Club, believes these magnificent beasts make great riding horses, especially for more mature riders.

    “I bought my first ‘heavy’, a piebald 16.2hh part-bred Shire mare, after having a bad experience with my previous Arab/Welsh horse,” explains Sue. “Belle was steady and reliable and gave me back my confidence.

    “Now I regularly compete in showing and have taking up driving, which I never imagined doing.

    “At the time I though I was the only person daft enough to ride a ‘cart horse’ but since then I have found many of people who are enjoying riding, and competing, these gentle giants.”

    Supporters get together

    Sue, who lives in Burntwood, Staffs, set up the Heavy Horse Riding Club at the end of last year and has been inundated with enquiries ever since.

    “The club is now 57 strong with heavy horse enthusiasts from all over the UK,”says Sue. “Our members take part in a vast range of activities with their horses from show jumping and dressage to driving, riding western and showing.”

    Club member Pat Ryder enjoys competing regularly in riding club dressage competitions with her pure-bred Shire mare, Costead Manor Shirley, also known as ‘Shirl the girl’.

    “I bought Shirl five years ago when I was 50 years old, as a fun horse,” explains Pat. “At first I had no aspirations to compete, but as she became fitter I found I had a ‘Shire with an eventer trying to get out’.

    “After a break of around 15 years I am now competing in dressage competitions again and loving every minute of it. I was a member of my local riding club’s area dressage team this year. Shirl was fifth in her section and the club’s team was also placed.”

    Pat says she has received only positive interest in Shirl when at dressage competitions, although she has received some strange looks at heavy horse shows as the mare’s legs are clipped out.

    “Dressage judges always have positive things to say about her paces and way of going, while other competitors always ask me about her breeding and are normally amazed when I tell them she is pure Shire,” says Pat.

    Laid-back horses

    Sue believes heavy horses are becoming increasingly popular as riding horses because of their laid back nature. “Although there are always exceptions, the majority of heavy horseswill allow you to make mistakes and they have a more forgiving nature than some other breeds.”

    Pat agrees that finding the right horse is paramount and says that her horse is a fun, forward going and extremely comfortable ride.

    “Not every heavy horse will be suitable for riding, but many of them are. People certainly shouldn’t dismiss them out of hand as they can make great riding horses for riders of all levels,” continues Pat.

    And although they may be larger than your average equine, this doesn’t necessarily make them more expensive to keep claims Sue.

    “In my experience, heavy horse are no more expensive to look after than their smaller cousins,” continues Sue. “The vast majority are good doers and, as long as you are only hacking and doing riding club events, survive very well on grass and plenty of good quality hay, plus economy cubes.

    “Obviously a heavy horse, which is kept part stabled, will need a suitable size box and itis always worth finding a ‘heavy-friendly’ farrier to look after their feet. The club can help members find saddlers who specialise in over-sized tack and farriers in their area.”

    The club’s future

    The club’s plans for the future include a musical ridden display with a gothic, “rock chick” theme, a heavy horse dressage test for use at members’ events and the inclusion of ridden heavy horse classes at county shows.

    “We are presently doing a photo shoot for the 2002 Heavy Horse Riding Club calendar, which will include club members in various states of undress with their horses. Five per cent of the profits from the calendar will be donated to the ILPH,” says Sue.

    If you would like to find out more about riding heavy horses visit www.heavy-horse-riding-club.co.uk

  • To purchase a back issue of Horse & Hound (11 July), which include a feature on part-bred heavy horses successfully competing at top level (tel: 020 8503 0588).

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