Absolutely visits the Classical Riding Academy in Goodwood to see how founder Natasha Olivant has created something a little different
Perhaps better known as the home of motorsports and vintage petrol heads, there is a more genteel and traditional form of ‘horse power’ which is reintroducing Goodwood visitors to a by-gone era of horsemanship; the Classical Riding Academy.
The brainchild of Natasha Olivant, the Classical Riding Academy is one of a kind, as Absolutely discovered when we visited Natasha and her team on a rather frosty winter’s morning recently.
Ushering us out of the cold air and from the cobbled stable courtyard and into their spacious indoor school bathed in natural light, Natasha is eager to find out how our trip was this morning. The kettle is on, and conversation flowing before we even take to our seats in the wonderful client viewing gallery in readiness for our interview.
This warm welcome is typical of Natasha and her close-knit team. “Everyone is welcome here,” Explains Natasha, handing us steaming mugs of coffee and plates of freshly baked pastries. “Whether you are a complete beginner or advanced rider. We want you to feel part of our family and we want to be part of your horsemanship journey.”
This approach is more ingenious rather than of a more calculated business nature. Unlike more traditional riding establishments, the Classical Riding Academy is different as Natasha is keen to explain. “We are totally different to other riding schools,” she says. “I never set out to open a riding school, I might add! However, whenever I started teaching people, I just kept on getting the same feedback ‘why has no one ever shown me this before?’, ‘I did not realise how I sat on a horse affected the horse so profoundly’, ‘Oh, so it is me then not the horse!’.
“I’ve taken that eureka mentality and applied it to what we do here: take the focus off the horse and onto the rider. For the sake of horse welfare, everyone should be taught how the way they ride affects horse performance and horse mental health; it’s so important.”
This enlightened way of teaching also incorporates rider biomechanics and posture and performance lessons on a mechanical horse onsite. “This enables us to work with the rider to drill down in minute detail any postural weaknesses or asymmetry that will affect their ability in the saddle and ultimately affect the horse’s way of going. When we become body aware as riders, we can ride with more awareness. This is what makes us better riders.
“One of our major focuses at Classical Riding Academy is rider performance,” she continues, “hence our acquisition of a mechanical horse and our purpose-built gym. Our expertise in identifying and improving or rehabilitating issues of rider asymmetry or previous injury are what make us industry leaders in this field. Whether that client simply wants to enjoy hacking out in the countryside or wishes to take their training to a higher level, both require the same level of self-awareness for the welfare of the horse.”
This attention on the horse’s welfare is at the heart of Natasha’s business and her team’s quest. Every detail from their day to day management to their holistic massage therapy treatments is organised and overseen by Natasha.
A passionate animal lover and exceptional horse woman, Natasha’s love for her horses is evident. Among their fleet of beautiful school horses is an abundance of beautiful Iberian horses, which, as Natasha explains, is unusual for a riding school. “I had my first Lusitano horse when I was 15 years old, and I learnt so much! They are the Collie dogs of the horse world: beautiful, intelligent, loyal, hot-blooded and can be sensitive if not channelled properly. However, when you connect with them and work with them, they give you so much in terms of connection and trust. Their hearts are enormous. Rarely can you just sit on them and zone out. You have to remain constantly in the moment. They are a bit like Formula One cars, in the sense that you might know how to ride, but sit in the saddle of one of our advanced horses, and it elevates your riding experience to an entirely new stratosphere!
“The joy of riding at Classical Riding Academy is that we create a safe environment that allows riders to experience a more sensitive and receptive horse that enjoys his work and has so much to give.”
Welcoming riders of all levels from all over the UK, London and the Home Counties, is something Natasha and her team love. “There are so many years of experience and wisdom between our amazing instructors, even if you have had a career competing at Grand Prix level dressage, you are going to go home with a riding tool you did not arrive with. It is magical to watch a rider truly master and develop their skill and feel regardless of their previous riding experiences.” Riders from all walks of life including a fair sprinkling of famous faces are regularly welcomed at the riding centre. “At the Classical Riding Academy we are not goal focussed. Riding is all about the journey, not the destination,” she explains. “Horses do not understand incongruence, they are open-hearted and honest creatures, and that is why they are such wonderful teachers in so many ways both in the stable yard and out in the world because they make us reflect on exactly who we are and what we are projecting.”
And projecting positivity and radiating warmth are certainly attributes the Classical Riding Academy left us with on our wonderful visit.
For enquiries and to book visit classicalridingacademy.com (All photos By Toby Adamson Photography