French riding schools open doors to public from today

Riding schools, pony clubs and equestrian centres across France are opening their doors to the public for free in September, in a bid to encourage more people to take up riding.

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Well over 1,000 clubs across the country are set to offer a schedule of demonstrations and open days for the next three Sundays, suitable for adults and children, as part of the 23rd annual “Journée du Cheval (Day of the Horse)” campaign.

The first events take place today (Sunday September 9), with further sessions also scheduled for the next two Sundays (September 16 and 23).

The event website allows you to search by department and date, to see events within 10km of your home.

The campaign is organised by the Fédération Française d’Équitation (FFE), and will give visitors a chance to meet horses and ponies, as well as learn about riding and other horse activities (such as polo or dressage).

Each club has pledged to offer a personal welcome for each visitor, a visit of the equestrian facilities, a free ride on a horse or a pony, and equestrian demonstrations.

Some clubs can offer riding for very young children, depending on their facilities; while others are adapted especially for older people, or those with disabilities.

There is also a chance to win a free course of riding lessons as part of the campaign, which is also offering six lessons for the special price of €50.

Visitors are advised to wear comfortable clothes and strong boots, especially if they would like to try riding a pony or horse. Clubs will provide safety equipment such as helmets.

Two million people in France ride regularly for leisure, according to the FFE; and there are 9,500 riding centres - including 6,000 pony clubs - across the country.

The FFE is aiming to get more people riding in a club setting (rather than having their own horse, for example), as a way to spread costs, make the sport more accessible, and improve the welfare of horses and ponies.

It is also seeking to raise awareness of the health benefits of riding, including strengthening the back, leg, and core muscles; improving motor skills, reaction times, and confidence levels.

As most riding takes place outside, the sport can also help riders get out of the house, take in fresh air, and explore nature; as well as learn more about taking care of and respecting animals.

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