Equestrian recreation in Georgian England is usually associated with the
countryside and historians give the impression that Londoners only derived
pleasure from sociability indoors; but the capital was the mainspring of the
country’s equestrian culture and its residents were obsessed with horses.
The elite enjoyed exclusive access to certain activities but the
commercialisation of leisure widened participation significantly in the
eighteenth century. London gave birth to the modern circus and Hyde Park
became the most famous public riding arena in Europe, attracting a constant
stream of riders eager to show off their horses, carriages and equestrian
skill. The city catered for the latter by developing the greatest
concentration of public riding schools in the country. Riding facilitated
sociability but horses were enthralling companions in their own right and
often diverted polite Londoners away from the company of other people.
Mercantile men were particularly fond of riding out into the suburbs to
unwind; these ‘cockney sportsmen’, as equestrian snobs described them,
developed a distinctive equestrian culture which included commuting, riding
to horse races and hunting.