Riders and friends of an equestrian centre in the Cotswolds have launched a novel initiative to help care for the horses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bourton Vale Equestrian Centre is home to almost 100 animals, including horses, goats, pigs, chickens, cats, dogs, sheep and their lambs, and an alpaca.
Nestled in the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’, Bourton-on-the-Water, the riding centre tends to welcome tourists from across the country and the rest of the world during the summer months.
However, the impacts of COVID-19 have put a stopper on Bourton Vale’s income, due to travel restrictions that were enforced earlier in the virus’ timeline, and the eventual closure of the riding school.
As a result of the lack of income during the pandemic, some of the dedicated riders and parents of children who ride at the centre have been keen to help it out during this tough time.
Poppy Fountain, who is heavily involved with Bourton Vale, set up an initiative which allow horse-lovers across Gloucestershire to sponsor a cute pony or donkey.
“I started riding at Bourton Vale six years ago, and I have been involved with it ever since,” said Poppy, who is a key worker as a primary school teacher.
“There’s a few parts to [the riding school] – local kids and adults come to riding lessons, and we do a lot of tourist hacks. People come from all over the world and ride around Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter.
“As soon as COVID-19 happened, there was a massive drop in people coming and this would be the time of year the numbers would increase a lot.
“The tourism stopped happening, and then we had to close down anyway, so we’re losing out on our summer income, which is 85% of our whole income. It pays the hay over the winter.”
The adoption of a horse or pony will cost horse-lovers £5 per month, less than the price of buying a bag of organic carrots each week.
When it comes to deciding which animal they would like to adopt, prospective pony parents are spoilt for choice, as there is a choice of six sweet-natured horses, ponies and donkeys.
Belle the Belgian Draft, a relatively new resident to Bourton Vale, is available to sponsor, as are Gladys and Gertie, Bourton Vale’s two donkeys. Ella, Puzzle and Rosie, three cheeky ponies, are also available to adopt.
“So far we’ve had about twenty people say they would be willing to adopt a pony,” Poppy said.
“Some of them are pony club kids whose parents want to adopt them a pony, and some of them are adults and friends of the centre – the whole thing came about because people wanted to help.
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“People like me can go down and physically help, but because of the [social distancing] restrictions, a lot of people can’t help. So that’s why we came up with the adoption idea.”
Bourton Vale Equestrian Centre was set up in 1999 by Leanne and Justin Launchbury, and a lot of the horses and ponies at the riding school are rescue animals.
Many of the riders have fond memories of the school, which is why they are so keen to help it out during such a financially unstable time for businesses across the country.
‘A really unique place’
“It’s a really unique place in that there is a massive web of people who’ve been affected by it,” Poppy, 28, said.
“There’s the people who work there and the people who ride there – it’s been going 21 years so the people who rode there as kids are now bringing their kids. So many people really care about the place.”
Poppy grew up loving horses, but was unable to ride as a child due to a problem with her hip, so Bourton Vale means a lot to her as it is where she finally took up her passion.
“It’s an incredibly tough time for everyone, but particularly businesses that rely on tourism to keep going,” she said.
“The welfare of the animals is always the top priority and, while many businesses can close their doors, the Centre still needs funds to care for them, by sponsoring a pony, the public will be offering a huge amount of support to the centre.
“Everyone who adopts will be kept updated on their animal’s life. It’s something a bit different that we hope will also make them smile while we’re all staying at home.”
“We’ve already had so much interest in people wanting to adopt and are thankful to everyone who has supported the Centre this far. We’re incredibly lucky to live in such a caring community.
“We want to keep going so that we can continue to offer horse riding lessons and animal experiences to everyone in the future.”
If you are interested in adopting a horse, pony or donkey from Bourton Vale Equestrian Centre, then you can find out more by visiting their website here.