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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Is it time for you and your horse to try something new?


ABOVE: A group of Queensland riders getting a taste for endurance. Picture: SARAH SULLIVAN

MORE and more people of every age, size and ability are finding the pleasure of owning and riding a horse.

Some are first time horse owners and others are coming back to riding after raising children and having more time to themselves.


The next thing to do once they have a new mount is to find something enjoyable to do with it.


Not everyone wants to go to the Olympics and the thought of trying dressage or show horse events is intimidating, but there’s now so many other options for those who just want to enjoy their horses and get out into the open air, even if they don’t have their own horse.


So, you want to try something new … let’s start with the most gentle.


Trail riding is especially popular. If your aging legs won’t stand walking for miles, a kind and gentle horse will provide mobility while you enjoy the world around you, whether its beaches or hills or even in the outback.


Rides are advertised all over Australia, or you can find great places by yourself on your own horse making it possible to see the country without taking a step.


The last 20 years has seen riding clubs flourish, and the great thing about them is that riders are assessed as to their level of current ability, so the playing field is level.


ABOVE: Kate Adatins and her just-of-racing Thoroughbred try three-phase equitation. Picture: GRAIN & MANE

And, where it gets interesting is the focus is not just on traditional dressage and show events, but also on a variety of working equitation activities simply everyone can have a go at, on a pony a big horse, for slim or not-so-slim people, old or young.


Different groups have given the event different names but they are all basically the same with varying components.


With riding clubs it’s “three-phase equitation”, where a dressage test is followed by an obstacle course that is judged on style, speed and accuracy.


Clubs all over Australia are finding this to be one of their most popular events, as once again, it doesn’t matter what your horse is like and what shape or age the rider is.


Australia’s pony clubs are finding more and more kids competing happily in “stockman’s challenge” classes, where they negotiate obstacles, some set for inexperienced kids and moving on up to some really slick courses.


It’s been held for ages in other groups under other names such as “ranch riding”, a Western discipline where all ages have a go and there is a strong emphasis on helping people new to the sport.


Andriena Whelan is a mum who is trying ranch riding and enjoying it.


“I am tired of being made to feel inadequate by ribbon hunters as an adult on a pony,” she said.


“I want to enjoy my pony and have some fun and the Western people welcome us with open arms.


“There’s no need to have a $25,000 Quarter Horse or western breed, my little Welsh pony and I are as welcome as the big guns – it’s a refreshing change and an awesome adventure.”


Jane Cleland has spent her life supporting her daughters in showjumping and showing and is now also riding Western for her own pleasure.

ABOVE: The stockman's challenge is becoming popular for pony clubbers.

“I think people are just looking to try something different where they are going to be encouraged by their fellow competitors,” she said.


“Once you start looking into Western there’s a really good variety of events to try depending on your interests and how much you want to add to your skill set.


“You can start out with improver, or beginner, classes and work your way up as your skill and interests develop. Even the led Western classes require a new set of skills. I think there’s something about Western that just draws you in.”


The sport that is possibly the most informative in welcoming new people is endurance.

People look at the name and are intimidated, thinking they have to ride 160km, but then find that rides begin at 5km.


The 10km introductory ride is also non-competitive and being open to members and non-members alike, is ideally suited to newcomers or those introducing new horses to the endurance environment.


They are very supportive with advice and the state and national bodies have comprehensive information on their websites on how to get started in the sport.


Here are some of the pages anyone thinking about trying the sport can have a look at.



This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things to do and groups to join, but hopefully it will encourage riders of all levels of experience to have a go at something different.


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