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the myth

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 around – 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.

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the Beginnings

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 normally post on social media that we are on the lookout for a certain type, or visit Cavan Horse Sales in Ireland to buy them. The rest of our school horses come to us when their owners ask for them to come for more education, to be sold or 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 club and two blood tests in order to test for Strangles. 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. The horse is also 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).

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End Of Isolation

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 and on it, shout and pretend to fall off to make sure the horse will have no strange reactions should a rider lose their balance.

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Entering School life

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.
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Normal Daily Routine

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Ending School life

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:

  • It is retired, on site at the farm - this suits the quieter, more native types as these horses and ponies are happy to winter out.
  • Its work changes - we are lucky at ARC in that the RDA do valuable work with both disabled riders, and our horses. If a horse is of the right temperament for RDA, it can continue to do this work for longer as it is much slower, gentle work. This is ideal for school horses who do not take well to retirement - as many of them enjoy their work so much they won't stay in the field if we try to retire them.
  • We loan them out to a trusted member - this is the case with Gizmo who was a very popular school horse. We felt he was becoming bored of school life and he was in his late teens, so we loaned him to a local family who keep him at home and use him for light ridden work. We will retain ownership of a loaned horse, to ensure that we have control over its management for the rest of its life.

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.

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Our tips

For keeping your school horse happy are:

  • Give them plenty of turnout - even if they are stabled at night, make sure they get out during the day.
  • Have the best quality tack, well fitted.
  • Ensure they have regular attention from an experienced, qualified vet and farrier.
  • Ensure they have access to either good quality grass, or good quality hay at all times.
  • Feed them according to their weight, type, age and personality.
  • Treat them as you would your own horse - they love pampering, grooming, hacking out and special treats.