Buckinghamshire on horseback - all things equine in the county
PUBLISHED: 15:25 02 May 2014 | UPDATED: 15:25 02 May 2014
© Dorset Media Service / Alamy
Saddle up with Sandra Smith as she takes us on a tour of the county's love of horses: it's one of the best ways to see our equine friends and the stunning countryside
Given the profusion of picturesque vistas throughout Buckinghamshire, where rolling hills skirt historic villages, scenic idylls are never far away and ancient woodland is readily accessible from many rural communities, it is hardly surprising how much we value outdoor life. But, of course, it isn’t just people who benefit from the countryside; the county is also a haven for our equine companions.
So whether your interest is riding, supporting animals who have served alongside our armed forces, or horses trained for film and TV stunts, here we explore Buckinghamshire’s Equine World.
The Horse Trust
A visit to the world’s oldest horse charity never fails to inspire. The 200 acre site alone, with panoramic views across the countryside is spectacular. But more importantly, the work that goes on here is an imperative part of animal welfare.
How long each animal remains varies, as Fundraising Manager, Catherine Napper, explains. “Ex military horses which, on average, retire during their teens or early twenties, need specialist care. Once at The Horse Trust they are treated as individuals, enjoying as natural environment as possible and maybe living as part of a herd. For other, younger horses, we wait until they are old enough and see if they are suitable as a ridden or driving horse then we have our own trainer to school them and maybe find them a home.”
This organisation, which was established in 1886, also caters for abandoned or mistreated animals such as Hamish, a Shetland pony found in a crop field last November. He is currently recovering from a fracture and dislocated hip. “Despite his terrible ordeal and the pain of his injury,” Catherine reassures me, “Hamish is a very sweet natured and affectionate pony and The Horse Trust has pledged to provide him with a safe home for the rest of his life.”
A maximum of 100 horses are accommodated either in fields with shelters or newly built stables. “It costs around £4,500 per year to look after each animal and £600,000 to run the home,” Catherine reveals. “Money comes from the general public: donations, fund raising and we have a horse sponsorship from just £2 a month.”
The beautifully maintained site includes the Black Beauty Tea Rooms, museum, a sand school where horses can be exercised, horse walker, treatment clinic, special care unit for welfare cases and isolation unit. It’s a perfect afternoon out for visitors who are welcome each Thursday to Sunday between 2pm and 4pm.
The Horse Trust is the world’s oldest horse charity and when first established loaned out horses so people could continue their livelihood whilst their own animal rested.
A variety of events during the year includes an Easter Egg Hunt so go along between 10th and 21st April to collect clues and claim your prize.
Sponsors are given certificates, fact sheets, priority booking for events and a free annual parking pass.
Shardeloes Riding Stables
“One of the things that makes Shardeloes unique is our off road hacking; 500 acres of unspoilt but well kept countryside in the middle of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty offering an oasis of calm and tranquillity.” As a member of this family run business Melanie Williams is rightly proud of their well established equestrian centre which occupies an enviable position overlooking Old Amersham.
Here riders from the age of four upwards and all levels, too, are welcomed. Melanie says: “We have Merlin, our riding simulator, allows people to safely experience how a horse moves before trying the real thing. Merlin is also useful for those recovering from injuries (such as hip replacements) to test the water before riding a real horse again. It’s not just for beginners though; Merlin helps advanced dressage riders improve their technique and is often hired by trainers wishing to help students progress.”
With up to 40 horses and a dozen teachers, lessons are available throughout the year (except Mondays) and other services include full, part and working livery as well as veterinary rehabilitation.
Perhaps it’s the family commitment which makes Shardeloes so caring. Melanie is the youngest daughter and as Business Manager deals with the day to day running of the business. But other family members are also involved, including Cindy Wadland, an instructor who has evented to International level. Currently, she is focusing on coaching riders through cross-country clinics.
Not that this level of expertise should deter anyone keen from booking lessons, no matter their level of skill. Enthusiasm is the key ingredient, and that is in abundance at Shardeloes.
Shardeloes offers cross country, dressage, hacking, gymkhana and livery services.
Their Equine Therapeutic Spa provides salt water treatment for a variety of injuries such as fractures, joint problems and bone damage.
Looking for a children’s party with a difference? Shardeloes caters for small groups of children aged between four and eight.
The Devil’s Horsemen
The village of Mursley enjoys a connection not only with horses, but also Shakespeare, iconic horse racing events and some of our most celebrated actors. You see, it is here that French born Gerard Naprous and his family train stunt horses which are in constant demand for films and television.
“I was already a stunt man when I came to England in 1971,” Gerard reveals, his years in England having failed to dilute his strong French accent. “Now we have 120 horses – mainly from Spain and Portugal - on the 50 acre farm. We train horses the dressage way. They can be any age and the training sometimes takes weeks or even months.”
Although actors are occasionally used, for the majority of work The Devil’s Horsemen are ridden by stuntmen. When I wonder about the most daring stunt in which he has ever been involved, he declares: “The next one! It is not necessarily the most difficult, but the most challenging at the time.”
Currently Gerard and his animals are involved in a number of new projects. Forthcoming films include Frankenstein starring Daniel Radcliffe, Suffragette with Carey Mulligan, and a new version of the Shakespearean tragedy, Macbeth, featuring Michael Fassbender. There’s a commercial for the Grand National in the pipeline, too.
In this family business the Naprous siblings, Dan and Camilla, clearly share their father’s equine passion and, off camera, perform jousting, chariot racing and carriage displays, not just in this country but in shows all over Europe.
In fact, the whole team revels in their professional challenges. Not that it’s all work for the horses. “When they are past performing,” Gerard advises, “they retire here on the farm.”
The Devil’s Horsemen have been involved in Downton Abbey, Dr Who and Game of Thrones.
A collection of 1,000 saddles and bridles, along with highly skilled leather men, enables them to provide authentic tack.
Gerard Naprous has created a reputation as one of Europe’s leading stuntmen and horse master.
Now go for a ride
Buckinghamshire has some excellent riding schools, many with livery facilities and opportunities to go for a hack into the woods and across hillsides.
NJS Riding School, for instance, is a family run business with liveries in the village of Hardwick. They cater for riders of all abilities. Call Nickie Jackman on 07967 056092 or see www.njsequestrian.com.
Grove Riding School in Lane End has indoor and outdoor schools. Hacking is completely off road on a private estate, with horses suitable for all standards. Tel 01494 881939, see www.groveridingschool.co.uk.
Red Barn at Marlow offers bed and breakfast accommodation alongside its equestrian centre and family fun, such as own a pony for a day. Riding classes are kept small and there are livery stables suitable for all sizes of horse. Tel 01494 882820, see www.redbarn-farm.co.uk.
For riding opportunities across the county see www.riding-schools.com.