WHEN the order was first given, last March, “you must stay at home”, the country came to a shuddering halt. With schools, offices, shops and workplaces closed, those riders who were still able to visit their livery yards throughout the dark spring days of the first lockdown were deeply grateful to have a passion that legitimately took them out of the house, and to be able to retain some semblance of normal life.
The lockdowns have highlighted the role horses can and do play in benefiting the lives of all those fortunate to have contact with them. Awareness has been growing over the past few years of the wide and lasting benefits of equine-assisted therapy and learning, and the current situation may be when people need it the most.
Andrew Stennett, of I-Pegasus CIC, based at Grove House Stables in Nottinghamshire, set up his riding school 30 years ago, with one horse and one pony, on his family farm.
“Horses had always been my route to engage and feel of worth,” he explains. “I was fortunate enough to have the ability to ride and train with superb people, but that’s not something that’s available to everyone. My passion had always been dressage but I realised my real passion was training, and giving people opportunities.
“I know the sweat and tears of the horse industry – but I also know the tremendous opportunity we have and, unfortunately, we don’t celebrate enough what horses can do for people.”
ANDREW’S is one of a number of centres across the country delivering the British Horse Society’s Changing Lives Through Horses programme, which aims to help young people who are not engaged with education or society, with astonishing success.
“It’s not a riding course, it’s about developing life skills and self-esteem; it’s about teamwork and communication,” Andrew says. “It’s also about English and maths; how many buckets of feed does that horse have, and what about if the horse only has half of that? One child said, ‘The horse will be cross,’ and I thought that was lovely, and of course correct.”
Like all riding centres, Andrew’s had to close during the first lockdown, but during the latest lockdown, those offering therapeutic riding have been allowed to continue, providing a lifeline to those who need it most.
“There are young people who otherwise wouldn’t have come out of their rooms, except for meals,” he says. “When we went into lockdown, I realised how much we need a community, and how much they need us; one of my girls took some ponies out for a walk yesterday and she had 20 people looking at them via FaceTime, and saying how much of a difference it made to see them. It took us half an hour, and what a difference it made.”
Hayley Squirrell, of Squirrells Riding School in Kent, also delivers the Changing Lives programme, which she says has been of great benefit during lockdown.
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