The Joy of Riding at School

PUBLISHED: 16:14 04 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:51 20 February 2013

Millfield Stables, 1937: (L to R) Nathan Penney (Riding Instructor), John Gordon, Jack Meyer, Harry Hawker, Walton Homes (1st Head Boy), David Baird-Smith, Virendra Jhala and Dudley Sampson

Millfield Stables, 1937: (L to R) Nathan Penney (Riding Instructor), John Gordon, Jack Meyer, Harry Hawker, Walton Homes (1st Head Boy), David Baird-Smith, Virendra Jhala and Dudley Sampson

Millfield pupils Jasmin Lewis and Teddy Edwards share their experience of riding at school.

Millfield pupils Jasmin Lewis and Teddy Edwards share their experience of riding at school. Words by Tanya Reed

Whilst Millfield has deep, well-publicised associations with swimming and rugby, it is actually riding that has the longest sporting tradition at the school, dating back to its origins in 1935.

The first pupils were Indian Princes and, as experienced riders, they expected riding and good horses to be available. Students in the 1930s enjoyed attending local gymkhanas, joining the local hunt and participating in polo fixtures, often at the Taunton Vale Polo Club that still exists today.

The original stables, adjacent to Millfield House, have become school offices, but they paved the way for on-campus facilities, which now offer stabling for 59 horses, indoor and all-weather outdoor arenas, showjumping and cross-country jumps, and off-road canter tracks. Riding at the school now focuses on four core disciplines; showjumping, eventing, dressage and polo with training to the highest levels, including regular showjumping clinics with ex-Olympic showjumper Stephen Hadley, Clare Sansom, Fellow of the British Horse Society (BHS) and Pammy Hutton, FBHS International Dressage rider and judge. The school also offers riding to beginners, offering all pupils (from five-plus at the Prep School) an opportunity to ride for purely recreational purposes.

Local day pupil Jasmin Lewis, aged 14 from Butleigh, is a far cry from the Indian Princes of the 1930s, but typifies many riders at Millfield today. Jasmin loans a school horse (Finlay, 1997 chestnut gelding) and lives nearby, which means she can maximise her time at the stables without compromising her studies or her home life.

"Its great having Finlay at school. I walk down at break time to see him and can ride at lunchtime. I take my riding lessons before or after school, all with minimum disruption to my studies. I come and go to the stables throughout the weekend, and the staff are always available to help and advise me."

"I like competing and almost every weekend there are riding events and competitions that we can get involved in. A Millfield instructor accompanies us to every event, so its not as daunting as trying to participate and travel to events by myself".

Boarder, Teddy Edwards from Windsor, Berkshire, brought his horse (Kannans Gold) with him when he joined the school in 2009. A talented showjumper who competes regularly for the school and British Showjumping (BS) and competed at Royal Windsor in the Summer, he says "When I first started boarding, having Kanny here made it feel like Id brought part of home to school with me. We both enjoy settling back in and seeing our friends after the school holidays Kanny in his stable and me in the boarding house."

Jasmin and Teddy follow in the footsteps of many successful riders who have come through Millfield local girl Flora Harris (International event rider), Vicky White (accomplished showing competitor and showjumper, and several times winner at Horse of the Year Show), Freddy Tett (National Hunt jockey), Kate Lukas (professional eventer) and Jack Tucker (professional polo player) are all Millfield protgs, many of whom started their riding careers at Millfield Prep School and still regularly visit the Millfield stables today.

As well as riding for sport and recreation, Millfield offers the first professional coaching qualification awarded within the equestrian industry by the BHS. The course is proving particularly attractive for pupils who want a career in the equine industry, as training includes all aspects of horse care, riding and teaching, according to the BHS syllabus. There are currently nine students taking the course, including one pupil who plans to study Equine Law at university and feels it would be beneficial to have this qualification alongside the required A-levels for the Law Course.

Director of Equestrian Sports, Danny Anholt, has been at the school for 12 years. Despite being responsible for 17 school horses, over 30 liveries, 22 live-in staff, including eight qualified BHS instructors, he is still fully immersed in the coaching and development of the students and has ambitious plans for developing the Equestrian Centre.

"I cant say anything definitive yet, because its still at the planning stage, but our concept is fantastic. We are currently one of only two schools in the country with first-class riding facilities actually on campus and our plans would make this a totally state-of-the-art equine centre for schooling and performance across both the Senior and Prep sites."

With horses in his heart, it isnt surprising that the school supports Greatwood a national charity that gives ex-racehorses a new life through helping children with special educational needs. Danny is passionate about the charity. "Four afternoons a week, during term time, children with learning and communication difficulties come to the school and learn life skills through interaction with the horses. Its inspiring to see this programme in action. Everyone benefits, and horses that for whatever reason cannot be re-homed get a new lease of life."

"Id like to think the Princes of 1935 would be delighted to see how riding has developed and expanded at Millfield and that its still as popular and progressive as ever."

For further information about riding at Millfield contact Danny Anholt, Director of Equestrian Sports telephone 01458 444205. http://www.millfieldschool/equestrian

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