Berkshire on horseback - all things equine in the county

PUBLISHED: 11:48 09 May 2014


This is surely the best county to appreciate horses, with our beautiful countryside and communities built around racing, so Claire Pitcher trotted off to rein in the facts

Charlotte Jackson at Ambitions in Great SheffordCharlotte Jackson at Ambitions in Great Shefford

Have you been out riding during the last year? Then you are among the 3.5 million British residents to do so. Indeed, horse riding is more popular than ever, as more of us look for ways to improve our health and explore the Great British outdoors. And, as far as we’re concerned, you won’t find a better place to do it than in Berkshire.

Riding and owning a horse doesn’t have to cost a fortune either, as you can now horse share and many riding schools have great offers to help you learn to ride. One such riding school is Ambitions in Great Shefford. It’s been owned and run by Charlotte Jackson and her family for the past seven years. Charlotte has ridden since she was little and loves to share her passion for horses with students. Who better to ask then, about how to get started if you want to learn how to ride a horse?

“I would always say a private lesson is the best thing to do,” she begins. “Go somewhere local to you that’s been recommended by a friend or colleague. 
A one-to-one session is much better compared to learning in a group at the beginning. That way the instructor can tell you how to sit properly and guide you through what to do in different situations.”

How many lessons you will need depends on many variables, including your personality type. If you’re naturally a confident person you will get along fine learning in a group, but if you’re more nervous you may want individual lessons until you progress.

First things first, you need to formulate a plan with your chosen instructor, continues Charlotte: “On your first lesson you learn how to sit on the horse correctly, how to hold the reins and position your feet. Then you’re told how to steer, how to stop and go, the basic controls. All being well, you’re then taught how to stand up on the stirrups to learn to balance ready for trotting – a ‘riding trot’ – which is more comfortable for you and the horse.

“As you have more trust in the horse and you progress you can walk and steer, stop and trot on your own around the arena. It’s all about balance and control. Then, once you’re comfortable, you can start working on the canter.”

With more and more lessons, which can be up to 45-minutes long, the greater your confidence will be. “Once you have mastered the ins and outs you then might decide to have hacks with your instructor to get you going and then consider whether owning and riding your own is your next step,” advises Charlotte.

Lessons start from around £30 for 30 minutes, but many riding schools have special offers and block booking rates. Find out more about Ambitions at


Lambourn’s racing history

Mention horse racing in Berkshire and Lambourn is sure to be found in the same sentence. Horses have been part of everyday life for the village’s residents for centuries, and racing itself can be traced back more than 250 years.

Visit any of the some 50 racing stables in Lambourn today and inquisitive heads soon appear at stable door openings – and we don’t mean the humans who are kept constantly busy caring for their precious and valuable charges.

This is real horsey territory, with a famous landmark, The White Horse, just below the Ridgeway ancient path. There have always been stories that King Alfred was born in Lambourn, and that Lambourn Place, a crumbling Tudor mansion which once stood next to Lambourn church, but was pulled down just before the Second World War, was the site of one of his royal palaces.

By the mid 18th century Lambourn’s links with the horse world were fully established and there was even a little racecourse at Weathercock Hill. The course eventually closed, but the village and surrounding hamlets developed as more and more trainers moved in. They were able to make excellent use of the open downland gallops.

By the end of the 19th century the Lambourn Valley Railway was carrying horses to Newbury racecourse and beyond. Today of course, transport is by road and Lambourn Racehorse Transport is a familiar sight to regular M4 users.


Did you know?

One of the greatest flat jockeys, nine-times Derby winner Lester Piggott, lived at South Bank, Lambourn until 1954. His father had racing stables there and that was the year of his first Derby success, on Never Say Die. Our picture shows Pat and Pauline Bracey returning to the village watched by a young Lester Piggott.


Where you can ride

In West Berkshire alone there are over 20 riding routes recommended online at To view them all and to view maps you need to register. The British Horse Society’s website also goes into details on where riding is allowed, register at


Recommended reading

England on Horseback, Zara Colchester & Charlotte Sainsbury-Plaice, £25

Choose from 12 rides ranging from Dorset to the Yorkshire Moors.

The Horse Rider’s Hacking Handbook, Karen Bucj & Stephen Jenkinson, £14.99

The official manual of the Association of British Horse Riding School covers everything from tacking up to hacking on and off road and where you can (and can’t) go.


Horse sharing

Donna McDowall is the owner of Horse Shares UK. When she launched online in 2006 horse sharing was a relatively new concept. Donna explains the idea that she thought of while at university: “If a horse owner’s circumstances changed and they were no longer able to afford the time or money to care for their horse, the options were either to sell or loan. There was no middle ground. That’s what sharing offers. In a share agreement the sharer and owner will share the responsibilities of looking after and exercising the horse, and often the sharer will contribute financially too.

Donna’s top horse share tips

For horse owners:

Decide on what kind of share arrangement you are looking for before advertising. Are you looking for help only or do you need a financial contribution? If so, how much? How many days a week/month do you need a sharer and on what days?

Think about the type of rider you are looking for. Is your horse a novice ride or only suited to more experience riders? This is key to making a share work and keeping everyone involved safe. Be honest about any vices or quirks your horse has.

Get a contract in place before starting a share. It might be a good idea to include a trial period too.

For potential sharers:

Decide how much time and money you are willing to contribute towards a share before advertising. Also think about how far you are willing to travel to get to a share horse.

Think about the type of riding you want to do. Would you want to hack out or school a horse? Will you want to have lessons on your share horse or even the opportunity to compete?

Be honest about your experience and capabilities but don’t put yourself down. Think of all your good points and mention them.

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