RIDING FOR THE DISABLED IN LIVERPOOL
Our June Talk - Reviewed by Mike Chitty
Jennifer Hoggarth, one of the Friends of Beechley Stables, gave us an excellent and stimulating talk on Tuesday 26th June.
The Grade II Listed stables once belonged to Beechley House, built about 1840 for a Liverpool cotton broker. They were at one time the HQ of Liverpool's Park Rangers service. When that was closed down in the 1980s, Bill Beeley (partner of Stanley the Counting Horse) suggested using the building as a riding school for disabled children. The weather was initially a big problem; the paddock got churned up and muddy in the winter time, and for safety reasons lessons had to be cancelled when it rained. So in 1992 an indoor arena was built.
Jennifer emphasised that Beechley is not just about 'children having fun'. It's very important to those with conditions such as Down's syndrome and autism. Riding stimulates learning skills, gives a sense of achievement, and boosts confidence. The stables offer work experience to pupils in local schools - and a psychology student from Liverpool University did some research there. Local allotment gardeners exchange manure for carrots and apples.
A raised platform and mounting block has been built to aid mounting by the physically disabled. Jennifer explained that sitting on a horse, looking down, is much more satisfying than sitting on a wheelchair looking up! The activities include weaving between cones, trotting, grooming, and various matching/ stretching/ touching games. The stables are also beneficial for carers, who gain respite and the chance to talk to others. Even when they are not well enough to ride, the children can visit the stables with carrots to feed the horses.
Jennifer said that Beechley Stables is NOT now under threat - in spite of what it sometimes still written in the local press! Two years ago the stables were threatened with closure, but almost 10,000 people signed a petition. The roof has been repaired, the setts re-laid, and central heating, a saddle-strap washing machine and fitted kitchen installed. Four full-time instructors are employed, but volunteers are needed for leading, side-walking, getting horses ready, giving talks, helping at events, making tea, etc. Fund-raising activities include a summer fair in the indoor arena - with pony rides, stalls, a café on the courtyard, dog agility display, riding demonstration, and charity auction. A Christmas grotto offers photo-opportunities of 'Father Christmas in the snow'. And All Hallows Church organises nativity plays and carol services in the arena.
A new £22,000 Pro-Wax equestrian surface has recently been installed. Though the Stables are owned by the City Council, funds are limited and the Friends had to find 50% of the cost. They obtained funding from various sources, including the Riding for the Disabled Association. As a result of becoming an RDA local group, the Stables are able to take part in RDA events around the country. Beechley riders won top places in both the Junior and Senior classes at the N.W. Regional 'countryside challenge' at Crosby. In future the Friends plan to rebuild the outdoor arena - which will enable them to host competitions themselves - and also to enclose the indoor arena for winter warmth.
Jennifer's talk prompted a large number of questions from the audience. Her enthusiasm was infectious. Everyone went away full of admiration for the good work which is carried on at Beechley Stables, and the obvious commitment of Jennifer and the other Friends.