Racecourses have made huge strides in recent years in promoting Horse Racing as a family friendly event. Free entry for children and young adults; fairground rides and children’s entertainers; and promotions such as Newmarket’s ‘Superheroes Day’, make the whole horse racing experience more attractive for parents and their youngsters.
Such trips to the races may well spark a more serious interest in the sport, but for some years now there has been a more targeted scheme available to educate kids and promote Horse Racing among the youth.
The British Horseracing Education and Standards Trust (BHEST) were established in 1993. The charitable venture is responsible for the development and delivery of the ‘Racing to School’ education programme throughout the UK.
The intention is to introduce school-kids to Horse Racing, and educate them in all aspects of the sport in a fun and enjoyable environment. The hope is that such activities will introduce children to an industry and just maybe set them on a career path that they may never have considered before.
Over 10,000 young people every year attend the programme, which usually takes place at racecourses, studs or training yards across the country. Racing to School is offered free to pupils and students of all ages. It aims to enhance subjects that are taken as part of the National Curriculum. It’s surprising just how many aspects of horse racing can give a practical viewpoint to a school subject.
Few other settings could offer children and young people so many exciting ways of putting theory into practice. From weights and measures and the handicapping system, to the geometry in the construction of fences and hurdles, to the art and symmetry used in jockey’s silks, the opportunities are plentiful. Many pupils would never have attended a race meeting before, indeed may never have seen a horse before.
The group takes part in a host of activities, led by one of the Racing to School team. Pupils may have the opportunity to try out riding a mechanical horse, thereby gaining an understanding of balance and centre of gravity. They will learn how a horse’s senses can influence its behaviour when being ridden and handled.
Children will look at how obstacles are constructed, learning how they are built, and measuring heights and spread giving an understanding of how athletic the horses have to be. The chance to study a photo-finish introduces children to important racecourse technology. Race-days provide learning opportunities galore. Statistical information available on race cards, the shapes and colours of racing silks, the handicapping system are all aspects covered.
A jockey’s diet is also a thought-provoking topic, especially with child obesity being high on the public agenda. Pupils will discover how weight is controlled, and just how important it is to have a healthy diet to ensure athletes perform well at the highest level.
A visit to a thoroughbred stud is a wonderful opportunity for school children to learn of the importance of the breeding side of the racing industry. On a ‘Racing to School’ Stud Day pupils will explore the selective breeding process and discover how various thoroughbred horses hold the key to possible racing stars of the future. Children will have the opportunity of a tour of a stud, seeing new born foals and some of the retired stars of the sport.
The BHEST has specific objectives and a set of targets in place. They aim to deliver a positive impact on young people's learning, helping them to develop their knowledge, skills, confidence and interest; to improve young people's enthusiasm for and understanding of the horseracing industry; improve young people's awareness of and interest in employment opportunities with the horseracing industry; to highlight the industry's role in driving social benefits within local communities and with opinion formers and influencers across Britain; and to operate as a quality employer and encourage best practice.
During the summer the BHEST Racing to School team joined forces with Newmarket Racecourse, The National Horseracing Museum and Darley Stud to give children from Newmarket Primary Schools an insight into their local community’s most important industry. Often seen as the ‘Capital of British Racing’, the industry holds wonderful career opportunities for children in the locality.
The work with Darley has been on-going in recent years and this year saw 15 schools visit Dalham Hall Stud, with unique access under the expert guidance of Education Officers and the Darley team. The first of the visits took place in April when Dereham St. Nicholas Junior School took 30 of their year six pupils.
The work is clearly having a positive impact on the local community. Mrs Wood from All Saints Primary School commented after a visit to the stud: “This was a fantastic day and incredibly important for these Newmarket children. Lovely varied activities that provided something for every child. It has given them a better understanding of their town’s major industry and helped make them feel proud of it.”
In May BHEST ran a special Racing to School day at Lingfield Park Racecourse for a group of young people from Ebony Horse Club. The group use horses to improve the education, life skills and aspirations of disadvantaged young people growing up in Brixton, South London. Clearly these youngsters already had experience of horses but little knowledge of the racing industry.
Andrew Perkins, Executive Director of Lingfield Park said: “We were thrilled to have the Ebony Horse Club with us and we hope the youngsters thoroughly enjoyed their day. We can’t always promise to make our visitors ‘film stars’ but we do try our hardest to give them a great experience.”
Linda Hines from Ebony Horse Club is hoping to make the visit an annual event, and said of the experience: “The children found it very interesting and all thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They particularly enjoyed seeing the horses and jockeys up close, and commented on how it was ‘a once in a lifetime experience’.”
Such events can be inspirational for youngsters, and the work done by The British Horseracing Education and Standards Trust should both be supported and applauded.
For those who are looking for further information, please head to www.bhest.co.uk.