Bringing joy to all through horse riding
We head to Barnfield Riding School to find out more about its incredible work, and how you can help…
Tucked away in North Kingston is a riding retreat that is offering those with disabilities the chance to experience new-found freedoms with horse-riding. It currently caters for around 55 disabled riders a week, but hopes that it can soon raise enough funds to double the amount of rides it offers with the addition of a horse simulator.
The simulator will also provide a way for those with more severe disabilities to ride. Explains Patsy Rose, Barnfield’s owner and manager: “A real horse might be too dangerous for them but the actual activity would be beneficial. Riding is a great way to build core strength and while this could be done in other ways, there is something so instinctive about riding – people might start slumped over in the saddle but it seems their sub-conscious kicks in, they want to feel safer in the saddle, and so start to build up the strength to sit up more. There is a real desire to do it.”
The simulator moves just like a real horse. It can also provide analysis of how the rider is sitting and how that is changing over time. “It really is a high-tech piece of kit. It will also be surrounded by big screens where you can select from different backdrops such as a forest or a park so it can be a really stimulating experience. Plus, a simulator doesn’t need a rest.”
However, such tech isn’t cheap. The horse and the building of its dedicated area will cost £55,000. So far, Barnfield has raised an impressive £13,500 through fundraising activities and individual donations but clearly there is a long way to go. “If we had a lot of people just donate a little, it would be amazing,” says Patsy, for whom the stables have become a real labour of love.
With a life-long interest in horses – her parents worked in horse-racing – she swapped her banking career for the stables, becoming involved with Barnfield 20 years ago. “My horse was liveried here and I just fell in love with the work and started as a volunteer.” Six years ago she took over the stables, moving close by in case any of the horses should fall ill. “It is a 24-7 commitment,” she says.
But one that she is passionate about, and she recounts many stories of the people that the stables are helping. Riders vary in age from five to 60. Most come weekly or fortnightly. There are also those who come as part of a special programme or as a treat, or for a school holiday activity. “It can be so difficult for those with a mental or physical disability to find activities in the school holidays as they just don’t fit into the mainstream clubs,” says Patsy.
The range of disabilities is also huge, although many of its riders are on the autistic spectrum, for whom riding at Barnfield can be very beneficial. “They can struggle to feel accepted in society. But they come to this haven of peace, and find happiness. Animals are non-judgemental. We find it can really unlock skills – not just riding but also in caring for the horses and we have many riders who go on to become volunteers here. It gives them responsibility and routine.”
Barnfield also welcomes those who don’t have disabilities but have not settled at school. “There are so many teens who are not in education, and we give them somewhere to focus. They come here quite troubled but we have been able to provide training so that they can obtain a qualification in working with horses.”
But given its reach, there is a waiting list for its services and Patsy is desperate to help more people, something the simulator will do.
She explains why more facilities are needed: “So many riding schools have stopped offering riding for the disabled because it has become so expensive with the insurance, the safeguarding and paperwork that is involved. While we are part of Riding for the Disabled, we are a standalone organisation and have to raise every penny ourselves. You have to make enough money to cover the bills and run the charity. But we do, and we are!”
Fundraising is down to Patsy and her team, with the likes of pub quizzes, dog walks in the park, and events such as open days in the summer, Easter and for Halloween. People can also sponsor a horse at the stables, starting at £5 each month
Those without disabilities can also book lessons or to ride there, with experienced riders able to go out hacking in Richmond Park. Patsy explains this is also essential for the horses so that they get the right amount of exercise.
Currently the centre has 45 volunteers but is looking for more for the seven-day a week operation. You don’t need experience to help. “People think that they need experience of horses or working with those with disabilities bit that’s not the case. We provide all the training.”
Unlike many other Riding for the Disabled stables, Barnfield doesn’t yet have a patron, which would help rally support for its cause.
Do get in touch with Patsy if you can help or are interested in finding out more about volunteering.
To donate to the horse simulator, head to: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mechanical-horse-to-bring-joy-to-disabled-children
You can also donate on the phone, or pop down in person to see the stables in action: Barnfield Riding School Parkfields Road Kingston KT2 5LL 020 8546 3616