New campaign aims to get more British children in the saddle *H&H Plus*

  • The British Horse Society has launched a campaign aimed at getting more young people into the equestrian industry, and keeping them there. H&H speaks to the BHS and a centre to find out more

    A NEW campaign for under-12s is aimed at bringing more people into the industry, and engaging them with the equestrian and the country way of life.

    The British Horse Society’s (BHS) Pony Stars initiative is about giving children access to not only riding and horse care, but also the environment and the equestrian community.

    Following on from the senior challenge awards, which have so far engaged some 5,000 teenagers and adults, Pony Stars will “ignite a passion for ponies, build knowledge and cement friendships that will last a lifetime”.

    BHS director of education Alex Copeland told H&H that he hopes the scheme will benefit riding centres that have struggled throughout Covid, as many parents in the UK rethink their leisure time, but that it has been years in the planning.

    “We’re very excited about it,” he said. “The coaches and centres we’re working with on it are too, which is always good; when you have a vision and are trying to put it together, you’re  a bit nervous but the feedback we’ve had is fantastic.”

    A limited number of BHS-approved centres and coaches are to run the scheme over the summer, then there will be a full rollout in September, when many parents will be deciding their children’s term-time activities.

    Mr Copeland said the aim is not only to bring children in but to keep them in the industry, rather than losing many riders in winter, for example. His team worked with a range of organisations such as the Scouts and Guides, as well as centres, coaches and young people, to find out how best to engage participants.

    “This is the recreational market,” he said. “It’s about people maybe from non-horsey families; how do we make our offer for them as engaging and supportive as we can, to get more people riding, and so they stick at it?”

    Each child will be given a “challenge book” in which to log achievements, with stickers, badges and rosettes for achievements. These cover not only riding and horse-care topics but also, for example, building a bug house, or education on how to live a greener life.

    “It has to be beyond just riding,” Mr Copeland said, adding that the dismounted activities will also mean more time in an activity for parents’ money, but children are still immersed in the equestrian and outdoor world.

    “These are activities they can also do at home,” he said. “Key in the feedback from other youth organisations is for young people to feel part of a community, and it’s part of their life, rather than just a weekly riding lesson.”

    Children will progress up the levels, in which there is flexibility for centres to work as suits them best.

    “It’s been so difficult for centres,” Mr Copeland said. “Hopefully, this will give them help and more structure to move their businesses forward, reach more people and support them. Our centres are our lifeblood and we’ve got to make sure we keep them.

    “We also all want the industry to be accessible to everyone no matter their background, and this is very much about engaging everyone.”

    Valerie Borrow, senior instructor at Trent Park EC in London, runs the venue’s Pony Club and believes Pony Stars will complement this.

    “I think it’s a really good initiative,” she told H&H. “It captures a whole other market, for those who maybe aren’t into it enough for the Pony Club route. It’s a good way for them to track their progress without being put under any pressure, and still work towards the badges and achievements.”

    Ms Borrow also supports the idea of all-round progress and learning, rather than “just turning up to ride”, and believes the scheme will attract people into riding.

    “There’s a whole market of people who this will suit,” she said.

    The BHS has also teamed up with Sky in a scheme by which customers will have the chance to win a lesson at a BHS-approved centre this summer through the SKY VIP loyalty scheme.

    Thousands of four- to 14-year-olds will win a session.

    BHS head of business support Sarah Dale said: “We are delighted to be working with Sky VIP on this really lovely initiative.

    “With thousands of children being offered a taster lesson, we are of course hoping that many of them will then want to take up riding on a regular basis.”

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