Many people still believe that school horses have a "tough" life and that they are overworked, underfed and become stale and sour in the school. This couldn't be further from the truth at a good riding school, and ARC prides itself on its horse management and welfare. At a good quality riding school, horses are incredibly well looked after and have experienced, qualified staff at their beck and call, looking after them all as individual characters. Our only advice when picking a riding school is to go and have a look round - see what the horses look like, how they behave and ask the staff about their management. A good riding school will be happy to show you round and explain how their horses are looked after.
A good riding school horse can be selected specially for the purpose, which is how 60% of our horses came to join us. When we identify a type or size of horse that we need, we let two trusted suppliers know and they look out for the ideal type for us and then provide them on a trial period for us to get to know them a bit better before we purchase them. The rest of our school horses come to us when their owners ask for them to come for more education or to be sold, and then the owners decide that the horse is happier with us. We also have two or three who have been gifted to the club when owners have sadly died, or retired from riding.
When we initially receive a new school horse, it is put into isolation for three weeks in a separate field at the back of the farm. During this time the horse is fed and checked and allowed to settle in for the first week, then gradually brought into work by one of our experienced staff. During this time the horse is assessed and we decide on a plan of work and training for it to eventually bring it up to a standard that members can ride it. At this point a risk assessment it done on the horse, detailing what standard of rider it is suitable for, and any special notes (e.g. difficult to catch).
Once the horse has finished its isolation period, it is checked by our farrier, who carries out any work on the horses feet that are required and then checked by our vet, who will rasp the horses teeth if needed, and give it a general MOT. At this stage the horse is ready to be turned out with all the other school horses and we select which field the horse will live in dependant on how confident it is as a character and which group of horses it will get on with best. The horse then continues to work with our staff until it is happy in walk, trot, canter and over a jump. At this stage the staff also take their coats off on it, shout and pretend to fall off to make sure the horse will have no strange reactions should a rider lose their balance.
The horse will then begin its working life in the school. As standard our horses all have a Friday as a day off (when the riding school is closed) and one other day off each week normally. On their working days, they do 2 or 3 lessons, normally a mix of standards e.g. 1 walk/trot lesson and 1 trot/canter lesson to vary their workload and keep them interested.
It's a fact of life that all horses get old eventually and get to a stage where they are no longer able to do ridden work. At ARC, we have always committed to high standards of welfare for our horses during their working life and afterwards. We do not pass older horses on to dealers or sell them on privately, as we like to control their management into old age.
When a horse begins to get to an age or soundness when it is no longer able to do regular riding school lessons, it follows one of three routes, dependant on the horses personality:
Eventually, even retired horses get too old and the kindest decision is to have them put down. When this is needed, we arrange for it to be done peacefully, on site, with our regular vet to ensure that the horse is not stressed in any way. We feel strongly that this is the last responsibility that you are owe your horse, and that every horse deserves the right to a dignified end when it has been a great servant for many years.
So, our tips to keeping your school horse happy are: