With its stunning beaches and ancient trails, the Isle of Wight is looking pretty good from a horse, says Jonathan Bell
As we made our stately progress across Appley beach, the morning sun just peeping above the horizon, distant recollections of childhood horse-riding stirred muscle memory deep within and everything started to come together. Any of the trepidation we felt as our steeds were off-loaded from Island Riding’s horsebox soon vanished as we put our feet in the stirrups and swung up into the saddle. This was a proper family experience.
Set up by Louise and Paul Buckner, the £2.5m Island Riding Centre occupies an impressive new site only 10 minutes from the Fishbourne ferry, almost equidistant between Newport and Ryde. Tucked away among the rolling hills and winding lanes that criss-cross the island, the centre consists of smart accommodation, stabling and — soon — an indoor riding arena, a restaurant, two shops and a dedicated riders café.
Any trepidation vanished as we got in the saddle. This was a proper family experience
Add the expert guidance by the centre’s managers, Tian Hughes and Amy Hose, plus a full stable of characterful horses and ponies, and it’s an impressive package. One, incidentally, that is also open for general riding lessons, making this a year-round destination.
For three decades, the Island’s main riding centre was Brickfields, just outside Ryde. After it closed in 2013, the door was open for Island Riding to offer an alternative, which combines accommodation, training and outdoor activities to make an all-encompassing riding holiday experience.
The Buckners moved to the Isle of Wight nearly four years ago. “My grandmother is from the Island so we holidayed here throughout the 1970s and 1980s,” he says. Then my parents retired here, which prompted us to become frequent visitors before we decided to bring up our children here.”
A sustainable approach is at the core of the Buckners’ development. When the indoor school is completed, it will boast 130 solar panels for indoor and outdoor lighting, with a further 77 solar panels for the accommodation. There’s also rainwater harvesting, which will provide all the horses with drinking and wash- down water, and for the toilets and washing machines in the accommodation block. The centre also has a bespoke treatment plant to recycle waste water back into the local water course, not to mention charging points in the car park.
The children took the reins with aplomb, guided at every stage
Our family of four stayed in one of the seven new holiday units at The Gallops, all named after famous horses. We had Marengo, named after Napoleon’s horse, a well-appointed three-bedroom holiday cottage with a vast master bedroom, open-plan kitchen, dining space and far-reaching country views. There are dedicated accessible units, too, and most of the seven have their own private gardens and patios.
Having an aunt who owns horses of various shapes, sizes and behavioural quirks, our children, aged nine and 12, were at least familiar with the different ends of a horse. My wife and I can also walk through a field full of loose horses with a certain amount of confidence. But when it came to riding the beasts, all four of us had very little experience to rely on. Despite this, the children took the reins with aplomb, helped and guided at every stage by Hose, Hughes and their team, while the horses played their part to perfection, wading through the gentle surf and providing a wonderfully elevated vantage point.
With the fiery sun glowing on the horizon beyond Seaview and the huge car carriers seemingly an arm’s stretch away as they steamed down the Solent, our early morning saunter (with the occasional light trot) gave us a whole new perspective on the Island.
Jonathan Bell and his family were guests of the Island Riding Centre, where a weekend or midweek break
of two or more nights starts at around £400 for a three-bedroom unit (sleeps six) with a beach ride included. Island Riding Centre, Staplers Road, Newport PO30 2NB, 01983 215000; islandriding.com
Other riding options:
Allendale Equestrian Centre
Set in the heart of the Island, the centre is well placed for a network of bridleways and paths far from roads and traffic. Book in advance for the picnic pub ride. 01983 840 258; allendale-ec.co.uk
Hill Farm Stables
This family-run business on the spectacular south-west coast also has a 400-year-old holiday cottage for hire. A two-hour hack is £60 for adults. 01983 752502; hillfarmstables.com
The Calbourne-based centre
provides a friendly educational and therapeutic riding environment. A weekly 90-minute saddle club helps build confidence and familiarity. 01983 646161; islandequus.com
Sally’s Riding School
Near Bembridge’s popular Nodes Point holiday park, Sally’s offers rides and hacks for beginners and more experienced riders. An hour’s beach riding costs from £28. 01983 872260; sallysridingschool.com
Need some kit? Go to Froghill Tack in Godshill. 01983 840205; froghill.co.uk