It is the time of year when we usually think of planning a holiday. A few years ago, rather than owning my own horse I made the decision to hire my steed by the day from the riding centres which are numerous in South Wales. It occurs to me now that I never met up with either an American or a Canuck tourist during my expeditions on horseback either in Wales or elsewhere in Britain.
Britain, or rather London, is known to be a world renowned lure for tourists and throughout the year visitors from all over the world come to wander down Oxford Street and to feed the ravens in the Tower of London. But none seem to get on a train and travel out to the countryside in order to ride a horse yet the facilities open to any competent rider are vast. A tourist does not need a special licence nor in most centres, fancy riding gear to ride. All he or she need to be able to do is to sit a horse, some of which can be quite sharp but most of which are docile enough. Most likely the riding centre will be able to match the rider’s ability with that of one of the horses at the centre.
The only research needed is a visit to The British Horse Society web sit for a list of addresses of licensed riding centres and then to post an email or two. Mind you riding can be expensive by North American standards and any visitor will find the cost of living at $1.50/£1 in Britain to be high. We Brits pay at least 50% of our income in one tax or another but we are told it is money well spent. In fact often it isn’t but under our system of democratic government there is in reality not much we can do about it except pay up. OK, it is more expensive to live in Japan or Switzerland but the riding would be nowhere nearly as good.
The riding on this relatively small island of about the size of Alabama - can be superb. Whatever you want to do on horse, will be done somewhere in the country. We compete fiercely with the Germans in most of the equine sports. The Brits chase foxes on horseback despite a legal ban on doing so and we ride through small towns - including, believe it or not, the centre of London although only providing you are brave and know someone in the know.
There are throughout the year equine spectacles - the superb performance of Trooping the Colour being but one. This free show is a must see for the tourists even if they don’t ride. Just why so many cavalry soldiers march up and down to massed military bands to wish: ‘Happy Birthday’ to the Queen never ceases to amaze me although personally I think it is money better spent than buying another aircraft carrier. All those fancy uniforms and glittering armour are sights to see and one unrepeated anywhere else in the world. Take along a raincoat, just in case, because umbrellas won’t be allowed.
Some of the most famous horse competitions in the world take place in various of the stately homes of England such as Burghley and Badminton The Western rider can watch cowboys showing off and riding bare back rodeo style ie without a bridle or saddle. The adventurous can ride on the beach or up in the empty hills. One can ride along the green ridgeways of Wiltshire and Buckinghamshire and perhaps meet up with jockeys exercising fancy race horses. Importantly if the visitor falls off and breaks a bone or two, the National Health Service will collect the fallen, Xray the limb and plaster it up before asking for payment. Just make sure you have pre-paid medical insurance in case some zealous NHS official notices that the tourist rarely pays National Insurance Tax in Britain. You’ll not be turned away untreated from the hospital doorway although you might have to queue to be seen, as are we all.
A personal favourite would be to ride over four days across the Cambrian mountains in Wales to the Irish sea and there to gallop on the beach. Also to be recommended is a county show where you can get close to and maybe even stroke the best of breed be it a horse, a cow or a sheep. If you have the money then why buy a Welsh D from a foreign stud when you can buy from a Welsh hill farmer a true Gallic mare or stallion which can be air freighted anywhere in the world. Welshies really can fly but so do other native British breeds including Thorobreds, Exmoors, Dales and Shires. You name the breed, they are all to be found on this green grassy island including some not necessarily classified as a breed but rather as a type such as a ‘hunter‘. Be advised that over 85% of the island of Great Britain is deemed to be countryside as you will notice when your plane drops down onto one of the international airports dotted around the UK. Grass is green and so is the British countryside.
I personally have enjoyed riding a horse in the US, France and Spain but it was an English instructor who taught me first how to sit and control a horse. I can recommend the system, after all those teeny weeny saddles are what riding ‘English’ is all about. Maybe you should stop off in Walsall and buy one hand made but do bring along a photo and some measurements of your horse‘s back.
I urge you to come over and see for yourself. The national finances are over spent yet again and we need your greenbacks. You’ll have a good time whatever is your penchant. For enjoying yourself and amazingly we Brits speak (and write) a variation of your own language
PS There‘s no reason why not to wear a cowboy hat for day wear, but you will be asked to put on a toughened riding hat whatever type of saddle is being used when riding a horse.