RIDING schools in England will be allowed to re-open to the public for lessons, in accordance with British Horse Society guidelines, from Monday.

Outdoor and covered arena hire can resume, as can the hire of facilities, and horses will be permitted to travel for both coaching and recreation.

The rule of six will still apply, with lessons consisting of no more than five riders and one coach. Similarly on livery yards, group riding and hacks should consist of six persons maximum and any private coaching sessions or clinics should consist of no more than five people, plus one coach in a group. Although this is welcome news to the industry as a whole, riding schools are by no means out of the woods.

Winter is always a costly and labour intensive time to keep horses and never more so than during this last year. With many equines in their care and no regular income coming in for several months, including a very limited income throughout 2020, riding schools have still had all their usual feed costs, farrier visits and vet bills to meet. Thankfully the British Horse Society has been able to help many establishments, by offering four rounds of funding to BHS registered riding schools, with 20 or more horses on their books. This funding was made available to help with feed, veterinary and farrier costs.

I keep my pony at a riding school and I have nothing but admiration for the professional way in which the whole establishment has kept going throughout the last difficult year. All staff have remained positive and helpful and their incredible "can do" attitude has been inspiring, giving us all the strength to carry on. Donations of feed and carrots from regular clients, even though have been unable to ride, have lifted spirits as well as filling tummies. There has also been an amazing contribution from young rider Laura Curson and her mum Jane, who are completing a sponsored 10k a day from March to May in order to give something back to Robinson’s Equiteach, the riding school near Stokesley, which has given Laura so much over the years.

Laura suffers from a rare metabolic condition and says that Robinson’s Equiteach is her favourite place in the whole world. In her own words, Laura says “riding makes me feel free from my disability". Initially the pair set a target of £2,000 but at the moment the amount raised stands at an incredible £2,030.

So, with a bit of luck, by the end of March riding schools all over England will be open and riders of all ages will have the opportunity to enjoy their favourite sport, but as Claire Robinson, proprietor of Robinsons Equiteach told me, the re-opening will be a slow and steady process.

Firstly, the equines will have to gradually build back up to their previous level of fitness, having had so much time out of work. Initially, this will impact on the number of lessons in which they can take part. Secondly, bearing in mind social distancing guidelines, only clients who can ride independently will be able to return to normal lessons. Unfortunately, there are no facilities as yet for lead rein riders, which includes young children who are wanting to start having lessons. Sadly the pandemic has meant that riding schools have lost a whole year of new riders, but once again, focusing on the positive, Claire is looking at the possibility of organising small groups, where would-be riders of all ages can come and spend time with a pony. Here they will learn about all the other associated riding skills, such as grooming, feeding and general care.

So, if you have been missing your lessons, why not think about ways that you might be able to help your local riding school? Maybe give them a ring and ask if you could donate a bag of feed, or maybe some money for a bale of hay? I feel sure that, however small, any kind gesture would be very much appreciated.