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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

Horse power

Horse riding has become an accessible hobby, thanks to stables which do not require a membership to ride
The Straits Times - February 14, 2014
By: Lydia Vasko
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Horse power Gallop Stable Pasir Ris. -- PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Once a hobby associated with the rich upper crust, horseback riding has gained popularity among the masses in recent years, thanks to six stables here which offer classes to the public.

The National Equestrian Centre, Bukit Timah Saddle Club, Singapore Turf Club Riding Centre and three centres run by horse riding provider Gallop Stable - in Bukit Timah, Pasir Ris and Punggol - have made the activity accessible to those who do not want or cannot afford a club membership or to own their own horse.

Previously, people who wanted to try riding or enrol in regular lessons had to fork out thousands of dollars in membership fees - from $6,000 for a membership to the Bukit Timah Saddle Club to $12,800 at The Polo Club, plus monthly fees - before they could have access to clubs, their horses and riding instructors.

But Gallop Stable changed that in 2005, when it opened in Pasir Ris with 12 ponies which could be "rented" for riding sessions and lessons by anyone.

Ms Jill Shanker, 28, Gallop Stable's event manager, says the goal of the stables was to make riding affordable and convenient for the public.

"At that time, riding was accessible only by membership, which was based on subscription and had long waiting lists... Gallop Stable is for anyone and everyone to try horse riding activities and get to know these friendly animals," she says.

In 2006, Gallop Stable opened a second outlet called Horse City in Bukit Timah, in the former grounds of the Singapore Turf Club. A third branch, Punggol Ranch, followed in 2012.

Initially, about 90 per cent of their clients were expatriates "because expatriates were more aware of horseback riding activities", says Ms Shanker.

Today, 40 per cent of the three outlets' more than 2,500 regular riders are Singaporeans.

Mr Anthony Lowry, 35, general manager of Bukit Timah Saddle Club, which started offering public riding lessons in 2012, attributes horse riding's increasing popularity to the Youth Olympic Games held here in 2010.

The event showcased the sport and Singapore's national riders, who went on to win medals in equestrian sports at the Paralympic Games in London and more recently at the Sea Games in Myanmar.

To allay safety concerns and fears of falling off a horse, which are common among novice riders, riding schools emphasise preventive measures and safety gear, such as helmets, proper footwear and, sometimes, the use of a back brace.

Mr Lowry believes anyone can ride.

"Our riders range from three-year-old children to adults in their 60s. Horse riding is the only sport in the world where men and women compete on the same stage," he says.

Pregnant women and those with back injuries, however, are advised not to ride.

For most riders, the fun and benefits of riding outweigh the threat of injury.

Ms Nada Nurwani Ng, 37, and her husband, Mr Sazali Rahmat, 43, both secondary school teachers, have been taking their three children, aged six to 10, for riding classes at Horse City since 2012. The family lives in Clementi, about a 20-minute drive away.

"Before we started the lessons, we talked about the dangers, but we decided there is inherent danger in any activity.

"As long as we take all the precautions and there are instructors watching, I think they are in safe hands," says Ms Ng.

For the first year, the children attended classes only during school holidays. But since last month, they have been taking classes every Saturday - with no falls or injuries so far.

"They love it. For them, it's the thrill of the speed on horseback and they love animals, so they enjoy their interaction with the horses and getting to pat the ponies," says Ms Ng, who pays about $800 a month for the lessons.

She has also seen a positive change in her children. "They have learnt perseverance and the courage to try new things. When they started, they were scared of the horses, fearful of being nipped and kicked. But they have much more confidence now. My six-year-old daughter is also not as shy as she was before," she says.

Likewise, Ms Nicole Jegathesan, 49, has seen a marked improvement in her son Seth, 16. The student at St Gerard's International School is autistic and has severe sensory dysfunction, which means his five senses are ultra-sensitive. He also has dietary and sleep disorders.

Ms Jegathesan started taking Seth horseback riding at Gallop Stables in Pasir Ris when he was 10 and says she noticed a change almost immediately.

"The moment he came back, he started having a good night's sleep. He has a poor gait when he walks, but when he's on the horse, he instinctively straightens his body, and his muscle strength and tone have improved tremendously," she says.

Seth has a 45-minute riding session every week and Ms Jegathesan pays $750 for 10 sessions, in addition to his riding gear, which cost about $200. It is well worth the cost, she says, as his occupational therapy used to cost $160 per hour. They gave up occupational therapy soon after Seth started riding.

"Riding works better for Seth, as it brings him more benefits than any other therapy we've tried. Pasir Ris is a great place. With so much greenery around, the sea nearby and the fresh air, it adds to the healing process. The whole family feel calm after we take him for a riding session," she says.

Seth's delight when he is on horseback is obvious, she adds.

"He loves movement. Horseback riding gives him the opportunity to feel every movement of the horse's muscles. His face is gleeful when he rides and sometimes he lets go of the reins to clap his hands. Luckily, he has very good balance," she adds.

Another benefit of riding is that you can start the activity at any age.

Marketing manager Therecia Tay, 34, began taking public group lessons at Bukit Timah Saddle Club once a week in April last year She now leases her own horse at the club and rides every morning before going to work.

"As an adult rider, you have a lot more awareness of the risks involved in riding, which causes fear and creates a mental block. If kids fall, they just get back on the horse," says the mother of two of the challenges.

Some have turned the hobby into a career. Take Ms Elizabeth Wong, 30, whose lifelong love for horses has led her to become an equine veterinary assistant and a part-time riding instructor.

By the age of five, she was practising vaulting, a form of gymnastics on horseback. She loves the daily challenge of horse riding and being outdoors.

"When you ride a horse, there is a sense of freedom that is hard to describe," she says.

But riding is not as easy as people think, she notes. "Horses are big, intimidating and sensitive animals. It takes a lot of time and patience to build muscle memory and the confidence to ride well, so perseverance is key. And every horse is different, so how you ride it will be different. But I love horses and enjoy the challenge. Plus, riding is a good workout," she says.

As with any sport, injury is inevitable. "I've fallen hundreds of times... The only way to ensure that you will never fall is not to ride," she says.

"Ultimately, the benefits, the freedom and the happiness of being on a horse and feeling the wind in my hair outweigh the risk of falling."

vlydia@sph.com.sg

HORSE CITY

Housed in the former Singapore Turf Club's stables and facilities, Horse City - this is Gallop Stable's second branch - opened in 2006 and has 80 ponies and 40 horses on 10ha of land, surrounded by the hills and greenery in Bukit Timah.

Besides pony rides and group, private and junior riding lessons, it also offers trail rides, carriage rides, Shetland pony rides and donkey feeding sessions (Saturdays and Sundays, from 10am to 7pm).

Experienced riders can also lease a horse for half or one day to explore the Horse City grounds on their own.

All riders must wear a Gallop Stable T-shirt ($28), pants, boots and a helmet. The boots and helmet can be rented on site for $10.

Where: 100 Turf Club Road

Course: Classes are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis, depending on the horses and trainers available.

Cost: Riders can choose a 45-minute session ($70 on weekdays, $80 on weekends) or buy a package ($500 for 10 sessions on weekdays, $600 on weekends) for beginner to novice classes.

Hour-long trail rides cost $85 on weekdays and $95 on weekends for groups, and $95 on weekdays and $100 on weekends for private sessions.

A one-time registration fee of $20 applies to all new enrolments.

Info: Go to www.horsecity.com.sg

BUKIT TIMAH SADDLE CLUB

Started as a horse racing and training facility in 1951, the Bukit Timah Saddle Club switched its focus to training riders and horses for showjumping and dressage in 1999.

Dressage is an equestrian sport where a rider is judged by how well he or she leads a horse in difficult dance-like movements through an arena.

The club's competition-standard riding arenas take up more than 1.3ha.

It also has a 400m sand training track and 36 horses and ponies for use in the riding school.

While it is a members' club (membership costs more than $6,000, excluding monthly fees), it also offers classes to the public.

Those with little or no riding experience should start with the eight-week Beginners Course.

The 45-minute lessons are held once a week, on Saturdays or Sundays, when a class of four or five students will learn the basics of horse handling, how to move around a stable, as well as correct positioning and seating and how to stop, turn, walk and trot with the horse.

Open on a first-come, first-served basis to anyone aged above seven, above 1m tall and weigh under 95kg, the course costs $560++.

Priority goes to club members and the wait for a slot in the Beginners Course could take up to six months.

After that, you can continue riding in group lessons at a public rate of $422 for four 45-minute lessons.

If your child just wants a quick ride on a pony, you can take him to the Pony Rides, which are held near the club's Rider's Cafe restaurant on weekends from 10.30am to 1pm.

For children aged between three and 12, each four- to six-minute ride costs $10.

Where: 51 Fairways Drive

Course: Beginners Courses on Saturdays from 7am and 9am and on Sundays from 7am and 6pm

Cost: Eight lessons for $560 (plus GST) and a one-time $20 administration fee

Info: Go to www.btsc.org.sg

NATIONAL EQUESTRIAN CENTRE

Opened in March 2011, the centre began offering classes to the public the following month.

It started with 20 students and now has more than 100 regular riders, about 70 per cent of whom are Singaporeans.

The centre has about 5ha of land and 32 horses for public riding. It offers classes for both children and adults, with seven trained instructors. The classes include a Lead Rein Beginner course, which teaches basic horse-handling skills, balance, sitting, steering and trotting. The eight weekly sessions of 30 minutes each are taught one-on-one and are ideal for anyone six years and older who has no prior experience.

Next is the Lunge Lesson Beginner, where students will learn how to ride a horse with the correct posture as their horse is led on a long rope by an instructor, who will help students develop some of the basic skills they learnt in their beginner class.

The eight 45-minute sessions have two students to an instructor. Once the instructor has determined that a student has enough balance, muscle strength and coordination, he or she will move on to the Basic Riding Package.

In this course, students learn the basics of how to communicate with the horses through hand and leg signals. By the end of this course, they will be able to walk, trot and canter on a horse. Those with prior riding experience are required to take an assessment ride with an instructor for $80, to determine which class is suitable for them.

Once instructors feel that the riders have a strong basic foundation, they can move on the the dressage and showjumping classes offered by the centre.

Where: National Equestrian Park, 100 Jalan Mashhor (off Andrew Road)

Course: Classes are scheduled during the centre's opening hours, from 7 to 11am and 3 to 7pm, Mondays to Saturdays

Cost: Lead Rein Beginner, Lunge Lesson Beginner and Basic Riding packages for children aged six to 16 cost $480 for Singaporeans and $640 for foreigners for eight weekly sessions; adult classes cost $640 for eight sessions.

Info: Go to nec.org.sg

GALLOP STABLE PASIR RIS

Nestled amid Pasir Ris Park, the 1.4ha Gallop Stable Pasir Ris branch, which opened in 2005, entices riders with its natural setting and fresh air.

It has 12 horses and ponies for use in public classes, which are scheduled based on riders' requirements and interests.

Classes include pony rides for children aged three and above; semi-private classes with two riders to one instructor, or group lessons for riders aged seven and above; and advanced dressage and show-jumping lessons.

You can choose to join a group class based on your skill level, or arrange for a class with your friends.

Riders can also enjoy hour-long trail rides outside the stable's arenas, or lease a horse for half or one day so they can ride in the arenas and practise without supervision if they have enough experience.

Pony riders must weigh less than 40kg, and those riding horses should be lighter than 75kg.

Riders aged 55 and above will need medical approval or a letter of consent from a doctor before they can ride.

Riders must also wear proper riding attire, which includes a helmet, Gallop Stable T-shirt, pants and boots.

The shirt can be bought for $28 while the helmet and boots can be rented for $10 a session.

Where: 61 Pasir Ris Green

Course: Scheduled based on interest during the stable's operating hours, from 8am to noon and 2 to 7pm daily

Cost:Costs for 45-minute group classes for beginner to novice riders range from $70 a session to $500 for 10 sessions on weekdays; $80 a session to $600 for 10 sessions on weekends; trail rides cost $85 an hour on weekdays and $95 on weekends. A one-time registration fee of $20 applies to all new enrolments

Info: Go to www.gallopstable.com

PUNGGOL RANCH

Opened in 2012, Punggol Ranch is Gallop Stable's family and leisure riding centre, where the young and old can go for a countryside-style getaway in a Wild West-themed park.

Located along the Punggol Waterway, the 2.8ha ranch has 30 horses and 15 ponies used for lessons and leisure rides.

There are also about 30 wagon-themed chalets where you can stay the night (family rooms that can accommodate up to five guests each cost $190 on weekdays and $230 on weekends, inclusive of three horse and pony rides).

The ranch offers campfire grounds, an Indian restaurant and a Bacon & Booze cafe and bar. Pony feeding and stable tours are also available.

You do not have to stay the night to experience the ranch - you can arrange for group or private horse and pony riding lessons based on your schedule and interests.

Where: 900 Punggol Road

Course: Children's pony rides as well as beginner to advanced courses are scheduled upon request.

Cost: 20-minute pony rides for toddlers cost $45 on weekdays and $55 on weekends for each session; costs for beginner to novice group classes, lasting 45 minutes each, range from $70 a session to $500 for 10 sessions on weekdays, and $80 a session to $600 for 10 sessions on weekends.

Info: Go to www.gallopstable.com

SINGAPORE TURF CLUB RIDING CENTRE

The 3ha centre next to the Singapore Racecourse in Kranji has offered riding classes to the public since 2009.

It features world-class facilities, including a 50m by 100m open arena and a 50m by 80m sheltered arena where members of the public can learn to ride on the school's 44 horses and ponies in any weather.

Riders must be at least eight years old, 1.2m tall and weigh no more than 75kg to join a class.

Those with little or no experience should start with a seven-week Beginners Programme, which will teach the fundamentals of riding, including how to approach horses calmly and safely, how to mount and dismount, as well as how to sit and adjust the reins and stirrups.

Each 45-minute session will have no more than six riders.

Riders who have some prior experience are required to attend a 30-minute assessment ($40 for Singaporeans; $60 for others) on Thursdays at 7pm, where experienced trainers will decide which class level the rider should join.

Where: 1 Equestrian Walk

Course: Beginners' classes are on Saturdays and Sundays at 10.45am and noon

Cost: A seven-session Beginners Programme costs $50 per session for students in local schools; $70 per session for non-schooling and working adult Singaporeans; $90 for foreigners and permanent residents; Riders will also pay an annual insurance premium of $16 per rider, and $1 each for rental of riding boots and helmet.

Info: Go to www.stc-ridingcentre.com

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