Can’t find a class to enter at your local show? Is that dressage event too far away? Bored? Think you could do better? Then why not start your own Riding Club? All your problems will be solved! Holding your own shows, with the classes you want; gymkhanas, lectures, clinics, pleasure rides, trips out – the list is endless. But just what does running your own Club involve?
If there is enough support for a riding club in your area and you can find a suitable venue to hold events, then organise your first planning meeting. At this meeting the members of your Committee must be elected. Your Club will need, at least, a Chairperson, a Secretary and a Treasurer. Other members can be in charge of publicity, catering etc.
The Chairperson will have the casting vote at Committee meetings and has overall responsibility for the Club. The Secretary organises the day to day running of the Club, takes minutes at meetings and keeps membership records. They are often the lynchpin of the Club and will coordinate the running of most events.
The Treasurer is responsible for the Club’s money. He/she will have to keep basic books showing incomings and outgoings and balance these to the bank statement each month. Although the Club will have to open a business account, the Treasurer should be able to find a bank which will allow the Club to have free banking whilst in credit if the annual turnover is beneath a certain figure. The Treasurer should ensure that the Club’s account never goes into the red as bank charges would certainly cripple a small, newly-formed club. The accounts should be checked by independent auditors at the end of each financial year.
At the first meeting, the aims of the Club should be identified, and a list of rules should be drawn up. These will cover topics such as membership fees, meetings, safety and what will happen to the Club’s assets if you decide to close it.
Your Club will need to find a good venue to hold its shows. A flat field with plenty of parking space for all those horseboxes would be ideal. Many clubs will be based at a local riding school or livery yard and will be able to use their premises.
Above all, your Club must be properly insured. Just think what could happen if someone was injured at one of your events and your Club had neglected to take out insurance. Quotes should be obtained from several companies. You might consider affiliating to the British Riding Clubs movement. This would give your Club members many benefits – entry to training courses and nationwide competitions, a quarterly magazine and discounts at major events such as Badminton and Burghley Horse Trials. More importantly your Club members would be covered by third party liability cover whilst attending Club organised events.
Planning the Season
If all this talk of boring rules and regulations, accounting and insurance hasn’t made you want to give up the idea and go out and tidy the muck heap instead, you are now ready to plan your season of events!
Start your first season with small events that are easily organised and will bring in some money. Don’t be too ambitious too soon. Lectures on topics such as feeding, cross-country and dressage will give your members a chance to meet each other and chat, without being encumbered with 16.2 hands of highly excited horse.
Hold a fun gymkhana with plenty of lead-rein classes for the younger members and rope in the older members to do the leading – be as inventive and original as you can with the classes. Postpone holding a jumping show until your Committee has more experience and you have raised enough money to buy some jumps! A dressage competition is relatively easy to organise – ask a local instructor to judge, find a writer, get some score sheets and mark out the arena.
Hire a coach and arrange a trip to the Horse of the Year Show or Olympia. Hold a barn dance to raise some funds. With careful financial management you should be able to buy vital equipment from Club funds but you could also appeal to your members to donate useful equipment such as ropes, stakes etc. If the Club members participate behind the scenes they will get more out of the Club and there will be less pressure on the Committee. If you’ve saved enough money to buy some unpainted showjumps, arrange a pole-painting barbecue! Ask your members to bring any leftover paint they may have knocking around the house at home and don’t let them have a burger until they have painted at least one pole!
Pleasure rides across private land are very popular but take tremendous organisation – the Club will have to contact local landowners to get permission to use their land, mark the route, arrange stewards for each road crossing, inform the police if a large number of riders will be on the road and arrange for St. John’s Ambulance to be present. Give a proportion of the entry fees to a nominated charity and use the rest of the money to subsidise your less popular events.
Publicity is the key to running a successful Club. When you are planning an event make sure you advertise in your local horse magazine – this will be read by far more prospective competitors than an advert in the local paper. Write an article about your Club and send it to the magazine – they will probably be pleased to publish it for free! Send them results and photos from your last event. Competitors love to see their name in print! It makes that hard-earned rosette twice as valuable. Produce large eye-catching posters and put them in the local tack shop window. Put leaflets in tack shops and feed merchants or send them to local riding schools and livery yards, as well as publicising your event online. On the day of your event, put up huge, brightly coloured signs so people know where they are heading. There’s nothing worse than seeing horsebox after horsebox sail straight past your gate because your sign has fallen into the hedge.
Always remember to be nice to your members and competitors! Your Club will get most of its members by word of mouth. If competitors have a complaint, be sympathetic and tactful however annoyed you may be – a bad reputation could finish your Club before it has properly started.
Reap Those Rewards!
Running a riding club can be hugely rewarding and will give you an insight into the other side of competing but it is also very hard, time-consuming, unpaid work. At the end of a long day, everyone else has gone home clutching rosettes but the cold, tired and hungry Committee members have still got to clear the field, take down the signs and pick up the inevitable litter before seeing to their own horses. When you finally sit down for a well-earned rest you realise it’s time to start organising the next event! You have a responsibility to your members who have paid a year’s membership fee. At the end of a long hard season you might decide that running a riding club is one big headache and it’s more tempting to pick up a few show schedules and leave someone else to do the hard work!
On the other hand, if you have loads of energy and plenty of time, what’s stopping you? Polish up those jodhpur boots, get out there and start clubbing!
© Michelle Le Grand