10 UK destinations for equine enthusiasts

  • Published
  • By Gina Randall
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Horses are a huge part of British history. Queen Boudicca used them to draw her chariot into battle with the Romans. During the Middle Ages, people associated horses with good luck by placing a horseshoe over a door. In October 1066 William the Conqueror was victorious largely due to his 3,000-strong cavalry. And horses were also vital to the British Army's efforts in World War I.

Today, horses provide sport and entertainment throughout the world. Here, we look at ways to enjoy and marvel at these magnificent creatures.

1. Newmarket. This town is the national headquarters for British horseracing. There are a variety of places to visit in the town if people have an interest in the sport or horses in general. These include Newmarket heath, where visitors can watch the racehorses in training galloping up the hill as the sun rises; The National Stud, to learn how racehorses are bred; The Horse Racing Museum; not one, but two racecourses (The Rowley Mile and the July Racecourses); The Jockey Club and the famous Newmarket Nights concerts. Walking around the town at lunchtime, visitors may see smaller-than-average people in riding attire, many of whom are jockeys. For more information, visit

2. Olympia. This event takes place the week before Christmas. It ties in great for those who are planning a trip to London for Christmas shopping, as Olympia is located in the West End of London. Visitors can enjoy the Shetland Pony Grand National, showjumping, dressage, carriage driving, the Kennel Club Dog Agility and The Christmas Finale, which has a circus theme this year. Under the arena, there is a huge area for stalls selling everything the horse enthusiast could wish for. For more information, visit www.olympiahorseshow.com/.

3. The Royal Mews, London. Home to the Queen's carriage horses, the stables are next to Buckingham Palace. Visitors will see Cleveland Bay horses, which are used to take High Commissioners to their audience with the Queen. The Mews is home to horse-drawn carriages as well as motor-cars used by the Queen and other Royal Family members. The most dazzling of all coaches housed in the Royal Mews is the Gold State Coach, which has been used at every coronation since that of George IV in 1821. For more information, visit www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/royalmews.

4. Holkham Bay, Norfolk. This beautiful sandy beach is used by the public as well as the Queens cavalry to train and exercise the horses. During the summer, regimental training for the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment takes place in Holkham, Norfolk. The Life Guards, the Blues and Royals Squadron have an annual two-week reward in the Norfolk countryside. Visitors to the beach during this time will see a group of magnificent black horses galloping across the sand and splashing in the sea, enjoying a well-earned break for both horse and soldier alike. Normally, it is during the first two weeks of July. For more information, visit www.horseandcountry.tv/news/2012/07/10/happy-holidays-household-cavalry.

5. World Horse Welfare. This facility is based in Norfolk and is a fantastic cause. It is truly heartbreaking to learn of the animal cruelty in the world and how these strong and large animals are too kind natured to fight back against it. This charity helps horses from all around the world. There are many ways to help them including adopting a horse, taking part in a charity ride, organizing a fundraising event, and, for those that know of someone living in the U.K. on a permanent basis, the center re-home many of the horses they rescue. For more information, visit www.worldhorsewelfare.org/.

6. Learn to ride. There are many riding schools local to Mildenhall, where people of all ages and sizes are able to learn to ride. However, they are expensive and cost from £40 an hour for a private lesson. Some offer a "work for a ride" program, where people can work by cleaning tack and mucking out the stables to have a cheaper, or even free, lesson. This is a great idea, as it not only lowers the cost but gives people the chance to learn how to care for the horse too. Some schools offer riding for the disabled. It's amazing to see how these large creatures seem to understand the rider has a disability and they almost instinctively slow down and take extra care. For more information, visit www.bhs.org.uk/enjoy-riding/find-a-place-to-ride.

7. Eventing. There are many eventing venues to enjoy in the U.K. They range from local Pony Club mornings out to world-famous three-day events. The nearest eventing venue to Mildenhall is Isleham Horse Trials. A larger one is Burghley Horse Trials, near Stamford. This year Burghley Horse Trials takes place Sept. 5 to 8. Many equine enthusiasts would agree that eventing asks the most from the horse. These equine athletes need to be elegant and graceful in the dressage, bold and fast in the cross-country and then precise and controlled in the delicate showjumping stage. It's a wonderful day out, and if visitors have seen enough of the horses, there are a huge range of stalls offering a little retail therapy. For more information, visit www.burghley-horse.co.uk/.

8. County shows. Throughout the summer months, many counties in the U.K. hold their county agricultural show. As the name suggests, this is an opportunity for farmers to show off their produce and livestock. This also includes their horses. There are horse-drawn plough competitions and demonstrations, horse-drawn coach displays, showjumping competitions and the chance for members of the public to come into the show-ring and meet a hunting horse and hounds. At the Suffolk County Show, visitors can see the rare breed Suffolk Punch heavy horse. For more information, visit

9. Hunting. Although fox hunting with dogs has been banned in Britain, it's still a common scene in the U.K. countryside but it's very different today, with the killing of the fox outlawed. In the past it involved the pursuit -- and usually killing -- of animals with one or more dogs, frequently followed by riders on horseback. It's a hugely controversial topic. Post-ban, hounds are still allowed to find and chase a fox, but the fox must be killed by another method, such as shotgun. Opinions are divided, but if you live near a local hunt, it's a scene associated with the British countryside and it's worth seeing magnificent horses galloping across the open countryside. For more information, visit www.politics.co.uk/reference/hunting-with-dogs-fox-hunting.

10. Riding holidays. There are many horse-riding holidays in the U.K. and Europe. They can be quite expensive. Many cater for everyone from the very beginner to the most-experienced rider. Often located in areas that are naturally beautiful, they tend to be on the coast, such as Norfolk or Cornwall, or in the mountainous areas of Scotland or the Lake District. The normal day-to-day itinerary is waking up early, riding on trails straight after breakfast, having a picnic lunch, more riding through amazing scenery, then dinner at camp and sleeping in tents under the stars. For more information, visit www.equestrian-escapes.com/.

Horses are a huge part of the British past, present and future. Those brave enough can take up riding and enjoy the power and sensitivity of these amazing animals first-hand, either at a local riding school or while enjoying a horse riding holiday. Those wanting to enjoy horses from a safer distance can visit many attractions from as close-by as Newmarket, Suffolk, to as far-afield as the Blair International Horse Trials in Scotland.