Ebony’s Blog -  Life at The Shelley Centre




July 2019 (No 121)





Our trustees will have held the AGM by the time you read this. I thought it was some kind of meeting, but from what I hear behind my shut door, it’s a party and takes up the whole yard; there is a smell of cooking, a lot of chatter, and a tinkle of glasses. What you humans will get up to in the interests of keeping us going never ceases to amaze me!

Our Shelley Show brought June to a close, and the results will soon be up on the web page for you to see. My photos show the mounting team helping a rider onto Alfie; them taking a breather between competitors: the judges consulting with each other: our riders’ families having picnics in the shade; two of our riders taking a break with Sarah, who runs the 100 club for us; and Parys showing us how to relax between competitions.

However much the riders achieve for themselves, and we are very proud that they do, they couldn’t really do it without help from Jo Public, in the form of volunteers. I have heard that we need more helpers for the Tuesday rides (5 adult riders, then 4 children, then another 4 children) a pony leader for the Thursday morning boys’ ride at 10.00, and two more side walkers for our Thursday ladies at 11.00, and again for the Thursday afternoon very special needs children who come over from their school during lunch time. A very clever lady called Margaret will allocate help where it is most needed if you just contact her to say when you could commit to working here.

All our lovely volunteers need to take time off for family things from time to time so the more people on the regular maintenance team, the merrier. Could you consider joining us? (If you are only free in the holidays to do maintenance that’s OK with us.)

I’ll continue with my 30th birthday project of sharing 30 good reasons with my readers as to how people connected with the Shelley Centre feel about their being here:

9) (Is she joking ?) “To get away from my husband!”
10) “ Its nice meeting new people and making friends here. I like helping our riders, and seeing them smile.”
11) “I find it very interesting to encounter so many and various disabilities.”
12) Ruth, who is one of our adult riders: “In short a reason to come to Shelley...........It is a truly special place where miracles happen. There are excellent equine friends along with wonderful people who all contribute to the enrichment of so many lives. A chance too, to get to know EBONY.” Well, I like that Ruth, thank you for mentioning ME.

After all the rain of the last month, here’s to everyone enjoying a bit of sun and blue sky as the school holidays loom for our younger riders. To those riders not governed by school term dates, we apologise that we’ll be closed for August, and hope you find a way to take exercise without us! Keep moving and come back safely when we open up again in September.



June 2019 (No 120)

Double hoorays for the team of employees from Zurich in Ipswich who chose us as their  Charity Day for 2019! They arrived in force on 24th May and worked from 0900 to 1600 on the land and many of the maintenance jobs. Look at the photos of this amazing team in action. Not only have they given us the physical help we are always crying out for, they have been sponsored most generously by their firm. We are so grateful. Thank you for this most welcome blitz, and the work you did to make the Centre look so ship-shape.

June brings us to the Stratford Hills Horse Trials on 15th &16th. It mean a lot to us since many of our volunteers help out over the weekend, manning the crossings, stewarding, fence judging and generally doing anything to support the event. The live herd has often lent its stables to visitors for this competition but our ponies don’t actually join in. The course is so attractive and well managed some of the UK’s top riders now bring their young horses to this Horse Trials for their education. The setting is beautiful so its well worth joining us there for a great walk in the country and lots to of entertainment.

Our riders are beginning to practise for our own Shelley Show at the end of term. As we did last year, we are splitting the two events up: the Dressage competition will be on either 11th or 18th June and the Countryside Challenge and prize giving will be on June 23rd. So much hard work goes in to getting riders, horses and the Centre looking spick and span, I am quite unable to doze off quietly when the yard is so busy. Here’s Bob having a pre show bath in the interest of looking his competition best.

The summer seems to be packed with activity for everyone. Our fund raising team enjoyed a novel experience packing bags for shoppers in Hadleigh’s Morrisons store on Good Friday.

Paul Ballard ran the Manchester marathon on April 7th for us, and Adam Bensusan ran the London marathon on 28th April. I’d take my hat off to them if I had one. Then the team manned our stall at The Hadleigh Show, and not a drop of cake was left over. Our stand won second prize in the show, which was a great surprise! Thank you to everyone who supported us at these events.

Time now to add to my list of 30 good reasons for coming up here to join us!
7) Gareth, aged 6: “Riding fast” (he has just started trotting on Squidgey.)
8) A more thought provoking statement form my friend David: “its something purposeful to do, an activity that is good for my mental health. I’m not historically horsey but I have learnt so much about horses whilst working here, and working with them is therapeutic in itself. The calm, peaceful, steady atmosphere at the Centre is a plus. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Thank you David and Gareth; see you next month dear readers.



May 2019 (No 119)

Hello dear friends, have you eaten too much chocolate over Easter? I find this very curious in my human helpers. However, there was much excitement in the yard on the last Tuesday of Spring term: the morning group held their very grand Easter Egg Raffle. That enormous egg was kindly donated by Linden Lady Chocolates and caused great excitement.  All of the volunteers and many of the riders’ families were involved in selling tickets to family, friends and colleagues. The big egg was won by a ticket sold by young rider Mia’s family. Congratulations!”

The Tuesday Group has asked me to pass on their thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make this a success. The enormous sum of £640 was raised, which will help the Centre to keep up the good work.

Babs and I have had a quiet three weeks’ break, listening to our live herd being groomed and exercised by the helpers who keep the centre going during the school holidays, not to mention the maintenance team that works at keeping the grass mown and the buildings in good repair. We hear them chatting to each other whilst they have a coffee break outside our door. Since they are all volunteers, not everyone can be there every week: they are always hoping to expand the pool of people who see to the maintenance of the Centre. Our chaps who come to mow the grass, do repairs and keep the place looking good are a very special bunch of volunteers, not usually connected with horses at all. So I should love to greet any person out there who could lend a hand on the land. I’m a really handsome, unusual and interesting horse to meet, not in the same league as a live pony of course but a real feat of computer science and engineering.

Talking of volunteers, it’s the turn of three of them to add to my list of 30 good reasons for coming here:
4) Elspeth: the lovely atmosphere and friendliness up here.
5) Jan (who is one of our Coaches): the determination the riders show to achieve the best they can, which brings out their glorious smiles, and makes Shelley a happy place for all.
6) Cherry: being part of a really good team. And Jan’s cakes!

I hear there has been much talk about climate change and the devastation it causes. My friends in the live herd are having a chuckle about it. Their ancestors were the engines that drove the economy before fossil fuels were discovered, and their by products were all recyclable. They just need a little grass to keep working. I salute them. I’m afraid I take electricity just like everybody else, but I do try to be switched off when not in use.

The month of May means The Hadleigh Show cometh! Don’t miss the best agricultural show in Suffolk on Saturday 18th May and please come to The Shelley Centre’s huge marquee where we shall be selling plants and masses and masses of home made cakes.
Rock on all you cooks, keep baking!

(Cake Photo by Vojtech Okenka from Pexels)



April 2019 (No 118)

Welcome to my news feed from the horses at The Shelley Centre. We are privileged to work here with so many interesting riders; the care we receive is first class (thanks to Lyn our stable manager) and we get to meet all sorts of humans. The live herd and myself and Babs enjoy meeting new volunteers and training them up into our ways. We also love the comfort and company of our long-standing helpers who come to understand us completely. So that we can feel relaxed and useful in our work Lyn organised training days last month to remind our volunteers how we like to be handled. Nearly all our volunteer pony leaders and side walkers attended, Lyn did a fantastic job, and now its up to these wonderful volunteers to remember what they were taught! (My photos show the Thursday and Friday gangs being instructed.)

Luckily Babs and I keep things simple: so long as we are switched on, we work. No fussy characters here in our ‘quiet room’ thank you.

I like the cheerful colour of Charlie’s coat in my next photograph. He is chatting to our volunteer David whilst Bryn is being got ready for their lesson. How our riders do grow up! Charlie was just a small boy when he started coming to us, look at him now!

Celebrating 30 years of our existence here at Shelley is quite something. I wondered what, as a blogger, I could throw in. Well, over the next few issues I shall get the folk here to tell me 30 reasons why they like coming to the Centre.

Starting with two of MY riders (of course):
No 1, Matthew “I like Ebony’s ears.” Yeah, good man, Matthew, I like my ears too.
No 2, Evie “ I like feeling my core muscles being used, and I really like knowing that when I’m sitting on Ebony (out of my wheelchair) I can still keep my balance”.
Now for riders on Parys and Alfie:
No 3, From Ross’s Mum “definitely the social side” and you can see this in my photo of Ross and Brittany meeting up on the sofa before their ride.
More comments in next month’s issue, I’ll keep my black ears listening out.

Any Ipswich supporters here? Thanks for allowing some of our human team to collect donations outside the ground for your Reading match on March 2nd; we managed to collect £300 towards the cost of keeping us hale and hearty. Wish we could do the same for the Blue Army. I guess having a horse for your mascot is a good sign! Come to our fund raising horse race on April 27th in Lawford (re scheduled from March) and improve your (and our) fortunes. Details from Chris Southgate at


March 2019 (No 117)

Who, out of my readership, thinks they would like to run a marathon? None of my mates in the herd would do such a thing, but I gather humans can train themselves up to go the distance. We have been fortunate to get two runners in the London marathon on April 28tth this year, and training is in full swing. Both men would love to be sponsored for their efforts. Adam Bensusan has to raise the entry fee him self, and once that target is reached he can donate all the rest of the money he gets to us! Yeah, thanks mate. I hope you get lots of support. The Centre’s next fundraiser is the horse race night is on 23rd March at Nayland village hall. 7pm for 7.30pm start. Tickets are £15 each which includes a two course supper. Fish 'n chips or a vegetarian option. Bring your own drinks, glasses and nibbles. Tickets available from The Shelley Centre 01473 824172 or Chris Southgate e-mail 58aldham@gmail.com   It is a fun night with jockeys hoping to win a place in the final. You won’t be expected to ride any of the Shelley herd, by the way.



We had a bit of a rocky start to the term with some freezing temperatures, but two new child riders joined us and they are doing very well. My photo shows a Thursday morning ride enjoying a bit of outdoor air and sunlight, but you can tell from the clothing that it was cold.  In comparison the other photo shows the ‘tail end’ of a ride at the Dubai branch of the Riding for the Disabled Association, taken in January by one of our own volunteers. The temperature was a pleasant 24 degrees. There the rides finish at 11.00, and don’t resume until 16.00 to avoid the mid day heat. The ponies live in big loose boxes in large open-ended barns, with a team of grooms to care for them. They were still in their shaggy winter coats when this visit took place. The children (no adult riders in that branch) do not have any hands on experience in horse care as ours do, but their rides are similar to the ones we give, with plenty of educational games, movement and laughter. Her Highness Sheikha Hassa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum donated three of her ponies to the fledgling group to help it get started. See the webpage www.rdad.ae for more information about this ‘sister ship’ of ours in the UAE.

I hope everyone enjoyed their half term break and that we all have a very productive second half to the Spring Term with scores of successes for our riders. They are a brave and courageous bunch of people, and we love being here for them all.



February 2019 (No 116)

Its great to have the yard back in action again, with a steady stream of people and ponies coming and going. My photos show the shetlands being prepared for a Tuesday afternoon ride. Squidgey has a nice comfortable pad across her back before anything else is added for her special rider. Camilla is getting her hooves picked out before being tacked up. Pity the helpers who have to get down so low to attend to these, our smallest equine helpers!

We were very proud to have been featured across the front page of the Hadleigh Community News in January, (thank you Kelvin) so everyone will know what a special year this is for the Shelley Centre and the RDA as a whole.

In September 1979 Hadleigh RDA Group started at Frog Hall in Hadleigh so we could celebrate 40 years of being your local RDA branch, but when Mike and Jane Crow generously rented us land in Shelley we moved. The purpose-built Shelley Centre opened for business in 1989, so that is the anniversary we shall be celebrating here this year.

Please, if you have a spare morning or afternoon each week of the school term, do come and work here! Every new volunteer enables us to move somebody up the waiting list for the therapy we provide. Many of our riders require three volunteers to support them, either leading their pony, or walking beside them to give them security and help. Expert training is provided, and its very rewarding work.

Babs and I live indoors and get used as much as the outdoor herd, but we still need volunteers to participate in our sessions, so if you want to keep warm and dry, “apply within.”

My last photo shows Bob being cuddled up by Lindsay, one of our able bodied riders who helps keep the horses fit. He’s a lucky fellow. All the horses and ponies look for stimulation from these able bodied team members; a horses’s working day means many circuits of our arena in the lessons, so they much look forward to being taken out in the countryside for a good workout.

Talking of workouts, there is scope for you to join our maintenance team and help on the land. Much more interesting than gym membership, I hear!


January 2019 (No 115)

A happy new year to you all! I’m enclosing a photo I stole from the official RDA website because it makes me smile, and will make you do so too.

This year the RDA celebrates 50 years of official business. There were small groups in existence before the Riding for the Disabled Association was founded, but we all come under one big umbrella now, which ensures our standards are kept high and our work gets the publicity it deserves.

In addition to that anniversary, 2019 marks the 30th year of my group’s foundation! So watch this space for news of all our celebrations and parties to come and keep some gaps in your diaries to join us.

And last month the Centre put on its 20th annual Carol Service! We were lucky with the weather again and the yard was full of our families and friends.  Refreshments at The Centre were lavish as usual, and much appreciated. Rev. Sue Foster took the service, with a talk by Father Jo Delfgou (the new Rector of Hadleigh and Shelley). Members of Serendipity Choir and the Boxted Methodist Silver Band made a huge contribution to the music and singing for which we were most grateful. Our Baby Jesus was very well behaved (my, what a big chap he was) and the angels and wise men did their bit too. Our Ponies were represented in Church by lanterns on the Altar. It was a lovely end to the term, and thank you to Margaret for all her organisation and the hard work of her team on that Saturday in December.

2019janblog2During the Christmas holidays the Centre was closed for business as normal. The live herd has been exercised and fed of course, but Babs and I have been switched off and locked up, so there is little to report from the stables.  I hear there was a spectacular moon at Christmas, Alfie wanted me to publish this photograph of him having hay by moonlight one evening. Stick with me for next month’s blog and we shall have some stories to tell. Best wishes for 2019, and see you in February folks.



December 2018 (No 114)

Coming to the end of the Michaelmas term preparations are in hand for the carol service. You can see members of the team getting the decorations up around the yard. Tinsel and fairy lights will be much in evidence from now onwards. There are Christmas trees at the entrance to the arena, and some light-hearted games to play during lessons. Luckily no snow or it would be far too cold for our clients, most of whom have poor temperature control. The live herd is rugged up and cosy of course when not working, and Babs and I have a little heater in our room to help our riders keep warm.

There will be mince pies and sausage rolls and mulled wine up here on December 8th, lots of visitors and riders and supporters congregating in the yard before the service begins. Now that I’m smaller I’m really worried that I may not be able to watch! I shall use my ears to hear the vicar bless us all, and there will be music this year as well. Squidgey and Camilla plan to lead the procession down the lane to Shelley church; candle lanterns will light the route. Keep fingers crossed for us that it doesn’t rain!

Take a look at the amazing raffle taking place this month. A great hamper, or a beautiful Christmas cake, are up for grabs. The winning tickets will be drawn on Saturday 8th, I can’t wait to see who wins.

We have welcomed new helpers on the riding side this term and are very glad to have them. I hope they will enjoy being here and getting stuck in. I think activity in the yard is interesting to watch, as the new intake gets familiar with how we do things. Some of the ponies have been quite nervous about their new helpers, and our Mum, Lyn, has had to settle everybody down. We know she knows us very well indeed and can interpret our worries, and smooth things over for us.

Its also the shooting season so we make a lot of fuss about the pops and bangs, it keeps things interesting. Who wants a dull life?

I hope nobody has a dull life this Christmas and that all our riders and helpers enjoy the break. Come back refreshed after the holiday and ready to make big strides in 2019.

Happy Christmas everyone!



November 2018 (No 113)


Own A Pony Day for nine of our riders took place on October 6th and it poured with rain! Such bad luck after all the fun our ‘owners’ usually have on this exciting day but they did manage to get a ride by the river, and do all the indoor jobs at the stables which are part of pony ownership. Our website has photos on the ‘News’ page to show the children at work.

2018noveblogI have been helping with new riders’ assessments and getting them used to the movement on top of a pony. My gait replicates the hip motion of a walking human, so I can help with muscle tone and core strength for those who find walking difficult. I also help with a person’s balance. Its not just riding that happens here, though: every rider is expected to improve their horse knowledge, gain the ‘horsey’ vocabulary necessary to name everything in the yard, all the tack we wear, and continue with school work whilst skipping lessons! Here’s a photo of Matthew who rides me on a Friday morning. He gets the third degree from his ‘coach’ to remember all the parts of a bridle and a saddle whilst I am giving him his physiotherapy.

Some of you may have noticed that our webpage has been down? Very disconcerting for those of you who wanted to contact us over the last month, and I can imagine how it feels to be thwarted when wanting to look something up. We work hard here to save riders and their coaches from feeling thwarted; sometimes success happens in very small almost invisible steps but a quick glance over one’s shoulder reminds us that progress is happening. Recently the autistic child who simply refused to go near a horse actually sat on the ramp and stroked Alfie’s muzzle, neck and withers. The boy had been coming here for 6 weeks, so this was a milestone for him and us. (He has had a ride on me, but I have to admit, I’m not as terrifying as a live pony.) So we continue to work on meeting everyone’s needs, and my live friends in the herd do a great job out there. Give them a pat!

We are surrounded this month by reminders of the Great War. We horses had a horrible time and so did many other animals. I have enclosed some pictures of the Animals in War memorial in Hyde Park, London. Taken by Iridescenti - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, they show the different parts of this rather lovely sculpture. The memorial has two separate inscriptions; the first and larger reads: "This monument is dedicated to all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time."

The second, shorter but larger in font inscription simply reads: "They had no choice."



The herd at Shelley is very lucky to live in 2018 where the work is not onerous and the living conditions are superb! We all thank our lucky stars, and especially the lovely people out there who support the Centre with their time and money. Thank you.



October 2018 (No 112)

In September six new riders joined us, and others on the waiting list are about to be incorporated into our schedule. Babs and I are back in work, my repairs were finally done by Margaret and Rob themselves, under remote surveillance from the engineers.

Modern technology has brought us even more rewards: clever people at AV Unit Electronics designed and installed the screen in front of my muzzle  (so it’s in front of my riders’ faces too) on which they have been viewing themselves as they ride. Great for correcting posture, but as if that was not enough fun, AV Unit have fixed it to play a film of hacking out in the open country complete with changes of pace: walk, trot and canter! Since my buttons and very sensitive side panels can alter my paces, all we have to do is get synchronised and my riders will have a virtual tour of the Brett vale. So to Adam Clark, Managing Director of AV Unit, and Jonathan Kelly, the inventors and installers, a huge thank you for this great piece of IT, we love it.

More thanks go to our friends in Probus who, after Jan and Margaret had given a talk about the Centre to them on September 5th, collected up £205 for us. That was brilliant. The talks now have film to illustrate what we do, and Mary has joined the team to work the techy stuff and make sure the message gets across nice and clearly.

We love our fund raisers, and I like to thank them here but, as you know, it’s not all about the money! Here’s a photo of a Friday afternoon ride in full swing, Edward and Annie looking very happy to be back on board their ponies, and the volunteers looking happy with the lovely new surface in the arena.

Now to the outside situation: as you all know, my friends the live ponies live out. This means they stay in their fields when they are not being worked. Trips to the stables are for mealtimes and resting between jobs. So Lyn has to manage the fields very carefully to keep 10 live horses and ponies clean and fit. She would love to have more help with grass management from any one who fancies supporting us in this way. Would you be willing, if you live in Hadleigh perhaps, or somewhere equally nearby, to sign up to the maintenance team and help in our fields? None of our volunteers has to be here every day of the week but we do ask for a certain level of commitment on the maintenance team. It won’t all be manual labour but most of the team do happen to be men!



September 2018 (No 111)

What clever animals the ponies and horses at The Shelley centre are! Weeks and weeks without rain meant microscopic growth of the grass, but they kept on looking fit and healthy, ignoring the flies, and just carrying on with life like the troopers they are! Well done you lot, and well done the team that kept an eye on you during the hottest weather.

The start of the school year is always quite exciting here, we shall be welcoming new riders from their schools as well as our ‘old’ regulars. People will be amazed to see the new colour of our arena with its golden surface, a very jolly topping on the old worn one.

The Centre has been polished and cleaned, spiders moved, pigeons shooed away and rabbits sworn at. The tack is clean and

supple; the herd is ready for action.

Here are archive photos of me being spring cleaned last year, when I was still a tall horse and John sorting out the contents of my ‘quiet’ room. Its amazing how much rubbish we accumulate over a year and the volunteers will be tidying up all the nooks and crannies for the start of the new school year.

2018septblog3Readers, if you would like to sponsor a live pony, there is a link on our website that makes the whole process very easy. My Aunty Di runs the Sponsor A Pony scheme, and the herd much appreciates the support it gets from well-wishers. Babs and I don’t feature on her list of candidates as we are not so cuddly, but we share the workload here, and support the live herd in its therapeutic work. Our next fundraiser is the Quiz night on 29th September at 7.00pm in Polstead Village Hall. See our green poster, or visit the website for more information.




August 2018 (No 110)

I was laid up last month, with a mystery rattle in my works, so kind Babs took on my rides for me. I am still waiting to be repaired whilst writing this, and feeling a bit sad that I missed the end of term celebrations.

After the Shelley Show most riders went for a hack around the fields or down to the river in their lessons, and a relaxed atmosphere prevailed. It was hot!

There is a new bench for people to sit on the yard: it arrived last month and is already much appreciated. Presented to us in loving memory of Mike Sands, a long term supporter of the Centre, who was also a Rotarian. The collection at his funeral was distributed by his branch of the Rotary Club to several charities with which Mike was involved, and we were included in this bequest. Mike’s wife Kate is a Thursday coach here, and has been involved with RDA for over 30 years.

The AGM of the Management Committee took place in our yard on 3rd July. The wonderful weather enabled everyone to be seated outside, making it look like a party! Our chairman Jan Derbyshire presented the ‘Volunteer of the Year’ award to David Hills. I could hear the clapping from my quiet room. Thanks, David, and thank you to the committee and the BBQ team for a smashing end of year feast.

The last piece of the Masonic Charitable Foundation’s grant has been spent on resurfacing the arena where all the hundreds of feet, both equine and human, walk the walk. Its where most or the work takes place, and a good surface is vital for the health and well being of the ponies. Volunteers are quite appreciative of good conditions too. So a big thank you to MCF for awarding us the money that has injected so much new equipment into the Centre to enable our wonderful riders to do their best.

The Centre had a stall at the Fun Day in Nowton Park organised by the Suffolk Freemasons, showcasing how their money was spent, and operating a ‘wine or water’ table to raise more pennies for our upkeep. It was a very hot day, and the support was brilliant, thank you to all the punters who tried their luck with us. Denise isn’t actually treading the grapes in my photo, she’s stamping down the quantities of wrapping paper from the 250 bottles we sold!

Once again the live ponies have asked me to thank the team of volunteers who look after them in the holidays: they have been drinking a lot of water recently. At least Babs and I don’t have to be cared for, but I do wish my engineers would pay me a visit.

Now everyone has wound down for the long summer break. I hope all my readers have a splendid time of it and that our riders and their families stay fit and healthy till we see you in September. ‘Bye!





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