Durham University Equestrian Society challenges the elitist stigma unfairly attached to equestrian sports by making horse riding accessible to all. I interview the president, Siobhán Coyle, to find out more about the society and how people can get involved.
What exactly is the Equestrian Society?
The Durham University Equestrian Society offers horse riding lessons and events to those of all levels – from total beginner to advanced riders. We are a separate group from the Durham University Equestrian Team in that we do not compete at University level. Instead, we offer horse riding to students on a more ‘informal’ basis; that is, members can sign up for weekly lessons as and when it suits them.
What types of equestrian sport are taught?
We mainly focus on show-jumping as one of the main stables we attend specialises in that discipline. However, if some of our members express an interest in dressage, we can organise lessons tailored to that. The instructors are all very accommodating and are happy to teach a wide range of abilities if there is an interest.
What are the lessons like?
Lessons take place every Wednesday usually at two stables: Seagold Centurion and Bowes Riding School. We run group lessons that vary in size but typically are no larger than six. Lessons take place in the indoor arenas, depending on weather conditions. Often, at the end of the lesson we go on a short hack in the countryside in order to cool down the horses.
We are also in the process of organising a beach hack for this term. Ideally we would like to run hacks for beginners as well as advanced riders. We have had many successful hacks in previous years; it is a great way to enjoy some fresh air at the weekend!
Who can join?
Anyone can join! As previously mentioned, we run lessons for total beginners – that is, people who have never sat on a horse before! Our instructors are happy to help riders of all abilities and make sure that the lesson progresses at a reasonable pace. It is important to them – and us – that all members feel happy, safe and comfortable when on their lesson. Therefore, if you have never ridden before, please do not be put off! Already this term a lot of our beginners have come along in leaps and bounds in just a number of weeks.
Is it just lessons or do you compete as well?
For this term it will just be lessons. In previous terms, we have ran small show jumping events and gymkhanas. This is more informal and is really just a fun way to engage with other group members who may not be in your weekly lesson. We are hoping to run some competitions in Epiphany term.
What are the horses and ponies like?
I usually ride at Bowes Riding School and the horses there are lovely. So far, I haven’t had a bad experience with any of them. The stables have them very well trained but there are a few which are perhaps a little ‘fresher’ than others!
In my first lesson, I was assigned to a horse called ‘Major’ who was 17.1hh! This was quite a drastic jump for me as I was used to riding ponies. I was quite afraid of this giant but by the end of the lesson I fell in love and requested him every week thereafter. The instructors begin to see what horse or pony you click with and try to keep you with said horse to improve your confidence and ability.
Where do you ride? How do you get there?
As previously mentioned, we typically ride at Seagold Centurion and Bowes Riding School but recently a few of our exec have started going to Stainsby Grange, where the team trains. All three locations have great facilities and offer good lessons.
We typically run taxis to our lessons and subsidise some of the cost ourselves. Often, a member of the group will have their own car and so will take riders to the stables. On other occasions, if there are not enough in the group to cover the taxi costs, members can get the bus to the stables.
Do you have to have a certain level of strength or fitness to get involved?
Not really – if you are not particularly fit or strong before you begin horse riding, you certainly will improve after you start! Definitely expect to experience sore muscles and fatigue the day (or more rather the week!) after you have your first lesson.
You will also begin to see your muscles toning; when on a horse, you are constantly using your core for balance, strength and so on. It’s a great form of exercise. If you do have any health concerns or issues, perhaps run it past your doctor before beginning lessons.
Do you need to buy any equipment to join?
No – as a beginner you do not need to buy anything at the start! If you come to your first lesson in a pair of thick leggings and boots that have some sort of heel (similar to the heel found on a pair of Wellingtons), that will suffice. All stables provide horse riding hats also, so you do not need to worry about purchasing one.
If you continue with horse riding and it becomes a weekly event, then I would consider investing in a pair of riding boots as they help with your positioning on the horse. Another tip would be to purchase some riding gloves – or any gloves with some sort of grip – as in the winter months your hands may start freezing!