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Mountjoy Riding Stables, Wiltshire 

What does being local authority registered and licensed mean?

 All riding schools should be registered and licensed with their local authority.  It means lots of paperwork!  Not to mention expense!  Oh and time!

On the positive side it means the ponies get inspected by an independant vet annually,  both the ponies themselves, their tack, management regime, paperwork, living conditions and first aid provisions.  Health and Safety procedures are checked annually, the hats, first aid provision for people, notices etc and proof of insurance has to be supplied each year.   

How much do you charge?

A 50 minute children's group riding session on Saturday is £15.

Sunday sessions, alternate Sundays 10.30 am - 12.30 pm, for children, £18.

An individual 40 minute lesson is £20.

What age group do you take?

The guideline is 5 to 16 years for the Saturday and Sunday riding sessions.

We can offer some adult lessons, for lightweight adults, individual lessons £25 for 40 minutes (to include 30 mins riding).  These are available by arrangement on most Sundays, most weekdays and summer evenings.

The minimum age for riding is 4.  This hasn't always been the case and we used to offer rides for toddlers but now the minimum age to ride the ponies is 4 years.  

Can I take photos?

This can cause problems as, just as in a school there are restrictions on taking photos. The simple answer is yes, but only of your own child.  In practise this is difficult to supervise and so you are asked to take photos only at designated times and only of your own child/children.  I realise that a couple of people who bought the offer for the half day experience weren't happy with this but everyone has the opportunity to take a suitable photo of their child with a pony.

How many adults can ride at a time?

We have 2 horses who can be used for adults, depending on the weight of the riders rather than age. 

Note, we are now moving to just teaching children. 

What should I wear?

If you have riding gear that's great.  If not, then long trousers with no adornments on the seat (you will be sitting on a saddle), long sleeved tops and shoes or boots with a small heel are best.  There are sometimes private adverts on the board for second hand hats, body protectors, jodhpurs and boots.  We have hats available to borrow.

Can I bring a crop?

It is our policy to never use crops or whips so the answer is no.  It is my firm belief that children should not be encouraged to hit animals.

Where do the rides go, fields, open moorland or lanes?

The rides sometimes go out along the local lanes, they sometimes stay in the fields or often do a combination of both.  Unfortunately we don't have any moorland nearby.

What sort of riding do you do?

We specialise in offering basic and intermediate lessons, predominantly to children.  The lessons can progress to cantering in our own fields and also some jumping along with basic dressage moves at the higher level of lessons.  After that riders are advised to have lessons at larger establishments (although hopefully still ride with us as well).  Unfortunately some of the larger establishments nearby have closed but we are still sticking with offering basic and intermediate lessons only, being restricted with weather dependant facilities and also to keep the ponies in light to medium work.

Do you have special days?

Yes, we run fun days for children in the school holidays and we run half day experiences showing our training methods.

What qualifications do you hold to run a riding school?

I first qualified for my license in 1996 and have held the license ever since, (just hanging onto it with help during a period following a car accident back in 1999).

How did you get interested in horse whispering?

When I bought my driving pony Dominic as a 4 year old, he was a former rescue pony with whip marks round his head (he is still a bit headshy) amd scared of men (he is still a bit wary over 20 years later). The lady who had bought him had trained him not for riding, although he had been sat on, but for driving, intending to sell him to a driving home where he would have more chance of a permanent home than if he had been sold as a child's pony.  She had started him off using Monty Robert's techniques and gave me some photocopied notes on the subject.  At the time these articles focussed on using techniques based on the Native Red Indian way of training horses rather than the way of Cowboys.  Monty Roberts toured the UK not long after and so I went to a local demonstration.  There I asked the question of what I should be doing with Dominic (who was driving successfully at club events by then) on an ongoing basis.  His answer was to continue as we were but the important thing was never ever to use or allow anyone else to use a whip on him.  

When I started the riding school which was about the same time I decided to make it my policy that children would not be allowed to carry whips or crops when riding any of my ponies.

Note. Dominic sadly died at a grand old age in beginning of February 2018.  He meant a lot to a lot of people and will be sadly missed. 

 

What is your background?

My first riding lesson was as a 7 year old and I was hooked, helping at a local stables at weekends and then working Sundays at another local stables even when working in a full time job.  My hobby moved more to driving as an adult and as a member of a local driving club enjoyed rallies and one day events, ferrying my trusty Shetland and Welsh pony Dominic (still in light work at the stables) to various parts of the West country as well as pottering around the local lanes and tracks.  On starting the riding school it wasn't viable to continue with the driving club and so my attentions turned to realising my ambition.  At the start of Mountjoy Stables I did carriage driving courses and trained driving ponies but now concentrate on riding and offering pony experiences where we share handling and training techniques.  

As a former lecturer I am obviously qualified to teach, however I have never done any BHS qualifications, preferring to follow the horse whispering teachings of Monty Roberts. Having studied engineering and qualified as a Technical Author in my early adult life, ponies, riding and carriage driving were my main hobby.  I used to be very interested in the environment and did extra studies in this.  In what feels like a former life I wrote environmental appraisals for proposed highway schemes. After starting a family I retrained as a teacher/lecturer and spent many years teaching/lecturing maths and science part time and also specialised in helping students with Specific Learning Difficulties particularly with regards to maths. It was during this period that the riding school was set up, which was my childhood ambition and at the time of writing this is still my preferred occupation.  No longer teaching maths apart from some private tuition, I have started writing - but that is the next chapter!

What facilities do you have?

Our facilities are extremely basic.  We are an outdoor based facility and in some respects things are kept as simple as possible.  Seating and drinking water are always made available. 

We have a very basic chemical toilet and whilst I have considered a compost one my experiences at Glastonbury have somewhat put me off!  There are better public conveniences just down the road.  There are two very nice pubs serving meals and coffees nearby and a children's recreation area on the sports ground, which also has a bar open selling drinks and ice creams most weekends.

How many are on each ride?

The guideline is a maximum of 8.  If there were 8 on each ride I'd be considerably wealthier!  However, the more popular times in good weather are likely to have higher numbers.

Do you have assistants working?

Yes. I have been lucky over the years to have had some lovely assistants/supervisors, enthusiastic, willing, patient, caring people, all of whom I am grateful for. I prefer my adult assistants to have experience in the way that we do things at Mountjoy and to know the ponies and that is the case at the moment.  Assistants may instruct during the lessons but only when I am present.  At the time of writing we generally have one member of staff working with me on Saturdays and on the fun days and another on Sundays and on half day experiences, both of whom are wonderful and both of whom are working towards equine qualifications.  There are usually 'helpers' at the stables too, some of whom with several years of experience.  These are youngsters who pay to ride the ponies and have lessons but who stay voluntarily to help and gain experience.  I am very fortunate to have family members and friends who can help to look after the ponies as well. 

Do you let people help in return for rides?

Sorry but no we don't.   

What is the wet weather procedure?

As the Riding Stables have very limited indoor space, if the weather is bad we offer a stable management lesson at half price.   However if children do not wish to attend during bad weather there is no requirement for them to do so and no cancellation charge.

What are the ages of the ponies?

The ponies range from young to old.  At present we have one retired pony.  We also have a pony who is only 3.  As ponies can't be used in a riding school until they are 4, she has not yet been ridden. She joins in the lessons and walks out sometimes. This is a typical way for a young pony to start being ridden in the school and most of the ponies have been 'started' this way.  The other ponies are all the ages in between!

Are you insured? 

Yes, it is a condition of holding a license.

Are you first aid trained?

Although I have done some first aid training it is such a complicated topic, with specialist courses available for children and for outdoor activities which keep being updated, that my simple answer is no.  I am though the First Aid Designate (as is the requirement). 

Are you CRB checked?

Yes, although (amazingly) this isn't a requirement for the license.

How many ponies do you have?

If I had a dollar for every time I'd been asked this!  The basic answer at time of writing is 12, it does vary a little if ponies come in/go out on loan for any reason.

What is the difference between a horse and a pony? 

Mainly the height - 14.2hh (a hand is 4 inches) being the boundary. Millie is the only horse at the stables.  Blue is borderline.  I use the word mainly because some breeds are considered to be horses even though significantly less than 14.2hh.  Cobs are a bit in between and usually considered to be a 'type'.  Cobs are generally considered to be ponies but there are different opinions on this.  Some questions are not as straightforward as one might think!

 How long have you been running the stables for?

Since 1996!  During this time I have had help to different degrees during the week in looking after the ponies as my other work patterns have changed.  At the start we offered tuition in driving as well as riding and offered some livery provision.  At present we just offer riding lessons, fun days, half day experiences and the part loan scheme.

So, will I carry on? People ask me plus I ask myself this question!  I had thought about 20 years might be a good amount of time but that has past now and I am still very happy being able to work with my ponies, with children and with people who are interested in learning about non violent ways of handling ponies.  It enables me to help spread the message.  It also gives me flexible time to pursue other interests (having always been interested in different things).  So, at present the stables works well as it is, with relatively low overheads (see the question about facilities), compared to other bigger concerns, many of which are struggling, and with my 'home grown' ponies who I am very fond of and who are ideal for the light work which they do.  An option for the future is to become a sort of club or group where riders can loan ponies, sharing being an option and be responsible for their own insurance and maybe supervision. Many riding schools have taken this route and it is my preferred option at the moment should running a licensed riding school become too onerous or expensive.