Has your child been bitten by the horse riding bug? Here are some helpful tips on horseback riding for children in the Netherlands.
I spent my youth hacking through the beautiful English countryside on placid ponies. When I arrived in small and crowded Holland, I wondered if I could ever offer those experiences to my daughter. I need not have worried as I found that horse riding in the Netherlands is an extremely accessible sport, with many different disciplines such as classic dressage, jumping, cross country and western riding. We found a local riding school 10 years ago when my daughter was six and have never looked back, getting more involved in our hobby every year. I have learned that whether you and your family are complete beginners or were born in the saddle, there is something for everyone! Here are a few tips on what horse activities are available in the Netherlands and where to find them.
Horse riding in the Netherlands is very popular. Due to the success of the top dressage, jumping, carriage driving, and three-day-event riders at the highest international level, the sport has an excellent teaching and development structure. The KNHS (Koninklijke Nederlands Hippische Sportfederatie) is the umbrella organisation which sets the sport standards from grass roots level up to the top riders, with the belief that developing talent through the whole system is the only way to maintain Holland’s global ranking in the equestrian world.
Every top rider has to start at the beginning with riding lessons. If you are looking for a suitable riding school (manege in Dutch) for your children's first lessons, a great place to see an overview of many riding centres is the website of the FNRS (Federatie van Nederlandse Ruitersportcentra). Riding Schools need to pass an FNRS inspection before receiving membership. Membership as a rider offers the chance to take part in official competitions using riding school ponies, as well as taking the course to get a “ruiterbewijs” or horse riding licence which teaches road safety for you and your pony or horse. Both these activities are supported and recognised by the KNHS.
Riding schools who have become members of the FNRS are awarded a star rating, based on the quality of their facilities. The quality of the instruction is a guaranteed FNRS standard. While most riding schools have websites, it’s a good idea to visit the schools during lesson time and see for yourself how a school is run. Managers will be happy to talk to you and show you around if they have the time. Have a set of questions prepared to help you decide whether this riding centre is the one for your family. If your kids are absolute beginners, find out what steps the riding school takes to build their confidence around ponies and if they are encouraged to groom and pet the ponies. Most riding schools will not teach kids under six years old, but even at six, it’s not realistic to expect them to tack up on their own. Find out who saddles the ponies (you may be expected to help), and how children are taught to lead the pony on the ground and to mount up.
A good FNRS centre will have at least one indoor riding school, where dressage and jumping lessons are given throughout the year. It will also often give lessons in an outdoor arena if the Dutch weather permits. Expect to find a canteen or restaurant with viewing facilities over the riding area where you can watch your children ride.
If you are all experienced horseback riders and you and your family long to explore the dunes, beaches or woodland areas of the Netherlands on horseback, going to an FNRS riding centre will ensure a safe and enjoyable ride with an experienced guide.
In Noord Holland I have visited Manege de Hoef, at Egmond a/d Hoef, and Duinmanege van Poelenburgh in Schoorl. In Zeeland Manege Grol in Renesse also had good facilities. I am confident that the same standard will be found around the country.
It can be that your local riding school is not a member of the FNRS, but still offers perfectly good lessons. The riding centre we use daily (the Drie Merrien Jeugd Manege) comes under this category. Despite not being a member of the FNRS, they run regular official KNHS competitions (as do many other riding centres). Every competition venue must have a valid safety certificate and is subject to regular inspections. When you visit a facility check that there is a safety certificate prominently on display, and ask whether all the lessons are given by ORUN (Stichting Opleiding Ruiter Unie Nederland) qualified instructors. This qualification is officially recognised by the KNHS.
Finally, there are the costs of the sport to be considered. Equestrian sports are often considered to be elitist, but lesson prices for beginners are reasonably priced, often around €12 per hour, and around €35 for a guided ride through the woods or dunes. The correct clothing is also important: a riding helmet and riding boots are essential. Gloves, riding breeches and a warm jacket are also advisable. For beginners, big stores such as Decathlon, Divoza and Epplejack offer great deals, but your riding school can probably recommend a local store which has all the necessary gear.
Horse riding here in the Netherlands is organised and widely available. I hope this helps you find something to suit you and your children. But beware, once bitten by the riding bug, your kids won’t want to give it up, and before you know it having their own pony seems like a perfectly natural idea!
Jane Stephenson lives with her husband, daughter, cat and pony in a small, white house on a dutch canal, somewhere in Noord Holland. When she is not at the stables she works as a professional coach, trainer and writer. You can find out more about her work here: www.knowboundaries.nl
Photo credit: Jane Stephenson
Top: Bling Bling and Diamant ridden by Pallas and Lieve Middle: U Lourdes (Ulo for short) ridden by Jane's daughter Jolanda