Norfolk Passport

Top 5 | Horses and hacks

“The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it.” So begins Black Beauty, written by Norfolk author Anna Sewell in 1877, who said that her purpose was ‘to induce kindness, sympathy and an understanding treatment of horses’.  Fast forward 140 years and she would be pleased to see so many horses and ponies happily grazing on meadows in our lovely countryside.

Norfolk is truly a county of horse lovers, with a wide range of activities available to all ages whether on foot or 'on-board'. Here is our top 5 of 'all things horses' and what to consider if you are looking to start horse riding.

(Top image by Lesley van Dijk)


For anyone thinking about trying their hand at riding, The Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS) lists all approved riding centres in the UK.  An approved riding school has been inspected by ABRS, ensuring a high standard of horse care and is required to be satisfied that the instruction given is well presented and correct in content.  Experienced horses and ponies are suitable for all abilities and riders to enjoy such activities as lessons in small groups, hacks out around quiet lanes and own-a-pony days. 

Here are a few centres for you to explore:

Meeting horses

If staying on the ground is more your thing, Redwings Horse Sanctuary in Aylsham is the perfect way to get up close and personal with the 50 horse, pony and donkey residents. The centre is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 10am to 4pm and admission is free (donations are welcome at the information desk).  

One of their residents, Maya (pictured above), is a real life Black Beauty who has resided happily at Redwings since 2010. As well as visiting the residents, they are available for adoption and there is even an online 'personality matcher' to help you find your new friend!

After your tour, the facilities on offer include a café, gift shop, picnic area and children's play area to enjoy. 

Keeping a horse or pony

For those of us with horses and ponies in our care, spring is the time to spruce up our equine friends, with lots of grooming required to brush out thick winter coats.  Manes and tails are trimmed and our hairy beasts become sleek and shiny again.  It's also time to prepare paddocks, mend fences and have a good tidy up, just as we do when reawakening the garden but with a bit more wheelbarrow pushing involved!  

Mucking out, carrying water buckets and sweeping are daily chores made easier when the sun is shining and the longer evenings mean that more time can be spent in the saddle.  

For anyone taking on a horse or pony, or thinking about it, the British Horse Society (BHS) qualification 'The Essential Horse Knowledge Certificate' is specifically aimed at first-time horse owners or carers, parents of horse owners (you will be left holding the pony…) or anyone else interested in their care and welfare. No practical or ridden experience is necessary to take part and the classroom based courses are run by fully qualified instructors. 

So it is a great way to get an idea of just what it takes to keep our horses and ponies happy and healthy before even picking up a shovel!  Full details of this very useful course are available at BHS

Horse shows

Norfolk is blessed with many local shows to compete at, with varied disciplines available for competitors, from dressage, showjumping, cross country and gymkhanas to showing. 

Training clinics are held regularly for those wishing to improve their performance and for those seeking prize winning ribbons there are events held all year round for novice riders through to experienced competitors.

The website Horse dates is an easy way to see where the action is in Norfolk and visiting a competition is another good insight for anyone thinking about getting a horse and taking part.

You don’t need to be of Olympic standard to have a go but if the thought of entering an arena gives you the wobbles, Victoria Brant’s blog The diary of a wimpy eventer is a most entertaining and inspiring read of how to overcome nerves and self-doubt and come out smiling, sometimes even with a rosette! 

After a good walk round the cross country course watching international riders performing at their peak, what better than to relax at the catering facility (good overlooking the showjumping arena and enjoy a spot of lunch in the sunshine.

Out and about

As well as enjoying hacks in and around the areas where our horses are kept, great days out are to be had when exploring new areas. The National Trust’s Blickling Estate near Aylsham is a wonderful area to explore, with clearly marked sand and grass tracks and paths. 

For an organised hack, Sandringham Estate hosts a charity pleasure ride twice a year, in May and October where 5, 8 or 10 mile hacks are ridden through Her Majesty’s lovely woodland. Full details are available by emailing

Another great favourite is a beach ride on the beautiful sands of Holkham where riders can paddle, splash and gallop undisturbed for miles along the Norfolk coast.

Spring is a great time to get out and about and enjoy equestrian sports, and who knows, you may even discover a love of horses just like Anna Sewell and maybe even take up a new hobby.

Article by horse lover Sharon Murray and supervisor at The Dial House, Reepham

If you enjoyed this read, you might be interested in finding out more about Norfolk beaches, walks or antique shops. Here are is a direct link to our Top 5s