Ebony’s Blog -  Life at The Shelley Centre



January 2021






2021:- Bless my circuits, we made it........  all the horses and ponies, real and mechanical, wish you  A MUCH HAPPIER NEW YEAR! What ever will it be like?

Just as a surprise contrast to what life is like for all riders out there now: here’s a photo of Bryn taken in early July! Looks a bit cheerful, wouldn’t you say?

The Centre planned to open for riders on 11th January but we know that can’t now happen. We’ve all had to learn how to rearrange our plans, haven’t we? I know what you humans are like, you like your own friends, just like us horses, and you don’t like not seeing them. I listen in to the gossip and hear of so many Christmas gatherings being cancelled and feel sorry for you all. Being inanimate objects sure makes it easier for me, and Babs, to switch off entirely whilst the pandemic rages.

The season of deep mud is upon us, the valley below the Centre is a lake, and Lyn’s team of able-bodied riders continues to splosh through the gates to bring the horses and ponies in for a clean up and some proper exercise. One of the new arrivals is suffering from lockdown in that he has become extremely naughty. Without the regular discipline of work he is trying all the pony tricks in the book. Lyn is very cross with him for his bad behaviour and he may not be able to stay. We shall see.

Management of the Centre carries on behind the scenes, and the maintenance team has not let up, we are in good shape. Our grateful thanks go to the Hadleigh Young Farmers who are raising money for us by collecting people’s Christmas trees from their doorsteps in the IP7 area. No need to struggle to the tip with your prickly cast off if you ask them to visit you, and we shall be the beneficiaries. The herd still eats hay, needs shoeing and gets jabs from the Vet. so every donation is most warmly received.

Talking of the Vet, I hear you readers are to get a new vaccination in 2021! We are all willing this to happen quickly so we can reopen. We’ll make up for lost time when restrictions ease but meanwhile the message is to wait for your instructor to call you about restarting, and to keep well! Good luck everybody.



December 2020 (No 136)

The Centre only worked until 4th November, then we closed again. It was such a blow, after we had begun to get a few riders back in the saddle, and had so many sensible precautions in place. However I can’t complain, many businesses and charities are far worse off than we are. Whilst a team of good friends keep the live herd fit and happy Babs and I remain in our dark and lonely room with the door firmly shut, where my electrics are switched off, and Babs’s mechanicals are secure.

With a nod towards the coming festive season here are portraits of Squidgey and her sister Camilla. Ellie Ingham is the talented photographer who managed to get them both looking suitably cute, ears pricked and nicely cleaned up for their Royal inspection back in September. These two Shetlands would usually be the centre of attention for our Shelley carol service as they lead the candle-lit procession down the lane to Shelley Church. There will be no service this year. Whatever this situation brings to my lovely readers for their own Christmases, may you all experience some comfort and joy wherever and however you are. Even when everything is completely stripped away by COVID-19 there still remains the stable of Bethlehem fame, probably far more humble than the comfortable ‘rooms’ at Shelly but likely to have offered the same warmth and shelter to its occupants. Here we all wish you a happy, healthy, different and inventive Christmas with the people you love the most.

We shall hope to meet again in the New Year!



October 2020 (No 135)

Better news from the yard this month: we do have some of our riders back in the saddle at last. It has taken a great deal of organisation. A new approach was needed.

Riders have to stay in their cars and wait for their hat and boots to be brought to them outside. They may not come in the yard at all. A new entrance gate has been set up beside a hand sanitising dispenser, and our riders now walk past the dung heap to get round to the mounting block. Lucky them.

Our volunteers take on the task of delivering uncontaminated boots and a hat (off the ‘green’ table) to each rider as he/she arrives, and the parent or carer helps get them dressed. After the ride has finished the carer or parent takes off the things that belong to us here, and places them on the ‘red’ table outside the stable block. That’s where a volunteer collects them for deep cleaning. Then between rides all the tack is disinfected and cleaned by other helpers. The number of rides we can give is severely reduced, obviously, but the volunteer army is still needed for all the cleaning and sanitising that is required. So a big thank you to everyone for making this possible, however trying it all is.

2020SeptNewsHRH04Am I back in work? No, not yet. I did show our royal visitor how I work, thanks to Mia being able to mount me unaided. She and I did a good job of our moment of fame, and I’m sure the Princess thought we were great. It would have been too crowded in my room to have had the photographer in as well; she took this lovely one of Mia and me later, just for the record.

The only other black equine on the yard besides me is my friend Squidgy. She is our hard working Shetland, also on furlough like me because her usual small riders need supporting whilst they begin their journey to strength here. Squidgy, aged 29, has a problem with her teeth. (Don’t we all!)  She finds it impossible to chew grass. Her Mum, Lyn, gives her two delicious feeds a day so she still thrives, and she still keeps her sense of humour. As she needs to be alone with her feed bucket she gets the run of the stable yard during her meal times.  She takes ages to eat so the humans go off and attend to other jobs whilst waiting for her to finish. But Squidgy has one eye on the yard whilst those old teeth eat, and she can spot an unfastened door a mile off. Last week, when Lyn came to take her back to the field, she was nowhere to be seen. Lyn thought somebody else had taken her back until she noticed a little black ear through the glass door of the office! Madame had quietly squeezed through the open crack and found a picnic. Those wobbly teeth had demolished one apple, one pear, and as Lyn caught up with her, a chocolate brownie was disappearing, complete with wrapper. This shows form, wouldn’t you say?

So here we are in October already, and facing a tricky winter if what I hear is right. More courage and steadfastness is going to be needed by our lovely humans, and the horses will do their bit as usual. Some of our school children will get a half term break this month, and some will be hoping to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve. Lets hope they can. Keep up the good work everyone and stay safe, we are all in this for the long haul, wobbly teeth or no.



September 2020 (No 134)

Despite all the restrictions imposed by this pandemic, the Hadleigh branch of the Ipswich Building Society has yet again done the most amazing fund raising for us. My photo shows Peta presenting Jan Derbyshire with a cheque for £3,364 on August 7th. Watching eagerly is Chris Southgate, the fund raising treasurer for the Centre. None of the ladies wanted to be pictured in their face masks so the ceremony took place on the pavement outside in 30C heat! Such a great gift, we are truly grateful to the staff for all their efforts in these very strange times.

More hard decisions have had to be made about our re-opening in September. At present the premises will open on 7th, with the first week devoted to helpers only; there is much for them to learn about the new way of operating. Then, unless there are significant changes to the Covid-19 situation, only our riders who are able to mount and dismount by themselves will be able to return, as I said in my last blog. The helpers will not be allowed to have that close contact required on the mounting ramp. This is very stark news.

As you can imagine, BABS and I are also out of the picture for the time being. Our humans are trying to come up with a cunning plan that will enable us to get going, so watch this space!

Meanwhile the live herd is delighted the drought is over and the fields are greening up once more. My pictures show some of the ‘boys’ testing out the new growth.

Some of our volunteers got together at the end of August to remind themselves that they still exist. You can see them social distancing on Jan’s terrace, the glass of Pimms is purely decorative of course as everyone was working hard to get a grip on the Covid-19 situation.

Many of our riders will be returning to school this month. We wish them all the best, and hope they love being back amongst friends their own age again. Sadly we shan’t expect many of our special schools to be able to come up here straight away, everyone has to wait and see how things work out in each individual setting. Rest assured that when it is safe to do so we shall be here with an enormous big welcome to you all.

Stay safe everyone and obey the rules; I can smell the hand sanitizer from here you know.



August 2020 (No 133)

Well hello Readers, welcome to my aptly named ‘quiet room’ where I stand, all my circuits switched off, the curtains drawn and the door firmly closed.

I was woken up on the afternoon of July 28th for the much delayed Annual General Meeting of the Shelley Centre held here in the yard. You should have heard the CHATTER!!!! For friends who hadn’t seen each other since our lock down on March 16th there was so much catching up to do. Social distancing prevailed of course. Everyone had to bring their own chair and print off (what on earth does that mean?) their own papers but the sun shone and the premises looked fantastic. I listened hard to the business too. This is when our Chairman Jan Derbyshire gives out awards to long serving volunteers. Not many recipients were able to attend of course, but their names were mentioned. Patricia Bazeley White is pictured with her certificate for 30 years’ service......Wow, she’s been here longer than me!

Lyn told us about the new arrival on the equine team, he is called Snoopy and is a little piebald fellow, here to take over from Cindy who has gone to a new home. Snoopy and Buzz (who is his field mate) were at the AGM watching from the arena. Lyn said a big thank you to her team of able bodied riders and maintenance people who have all kept the Centre and the horses in tip top condition these last silent months.

Our most upsetting news is the retirement of Margaret Fowler, Vice Chairman of the Trustees and Jan Derbyshire’s right hand man in all things to do with running the centre. Most importantly for me, she is MY special instructor on two days of the week and has taken care of my riders for me whilst I give them a work out. Her’s will be a hard act to follow. Naturally she was presented with cards and gifts at the meeting as my picture shows. Is Jan wiping her eye there? I know I am.

As things stand at present, we shall only be allowed to open for riders who can mount/dismount by themselves and ride without side walkers. This is very stark news.

Opening up to our other riders will entail some training for the riders’ parent or carer, so that he/she can do the mounting and side walking that we, as non family members, are not permitted to do.



July 2020 (No 132)

It seems strange to be wishing you all a happy holiday since we have been on holiday for 4 long months already! In August the Centre will hold its delayed AGM. At this meeting the management committee will be planning how to reopen for our riders in September. It’s going to be quite a challenge: we’ll certainly rise to it.

Did you know that I’ve been at the Centre for 13 years now? I, and my ancient friend BABS, know we are integral to the therapy the Centre offers, and provided we get our annual service, we don’t really age. However the same can’t be said for the live horses and ponies. The make up of the herd inevitably has to change as some of the horses need to retire from active work.

We are wondering whether the knock on effect of this Corona-19 pandemic and the subsequent loss of many incomes has led some horse owners to rethink their options? The Shelley Centre has given many years of comfortable living to several early ‘retired’ horses and ponies, whose owners have had to find new homes for them for many different reasons. So if any readers out there are contemplating a new approach to their horse ownership, we’d love to be able to discuss options with you. Lyn Bensusan, our mum, is a very experienced horse woman and always puts our health and well being above everything. The herd is really well looked after by an able-bodied team, keeping all the horses and ponies fit and mentally stimulated. (See the photo of Bryn in the river)

Our fields are on the slope of a hill which the ponies like, they live out all year round, only coming in to the stables for a rest when necessary, or to be got ready for the day’s work. The equine team feels itself lucky to be here, and it looks forward to welcoming new recruits to the herd when our dear ‘pensioners’ depart.

We could all be wearing face masks by the time this goes to print. Tilly would like you to admire hers in this photograph. Hopefully I shall have a bit more gossip to report next month, meanwhile stay safe and cheerful. Happy holidays.



June 2020 (No 131)

Well here we are again, and no getting back to our Shelley normal for another three months!

Our umbrella organisation has come up with a cunning plan for riders to start getting back in the saddle; unfortunately they are deemed unworkable here.  With our client base and our special volunteer army, the logistics of keeping a 2 meter distance become crazy and unsafe. Then there is the business of disinfecting tack between each rider, having more hand washing places, and using a rider’s main carer to do the side walking with them. We know a few of our parents/carers wouldn’t mind, but there are those who feel very nervous of horses! The majority of our volunteers are in the risky age group, or have family members who are equally vulnerable, so at present it’s a regrettable NO. However the RDA is busy keeping our riders engaged. The RDA website, not ours, has plenty of downloadable material for riders, courses and competitions.

If you want something to smile about, watch the film of our members doing Hobby Horse Dressage on YouTube. ‘Dressage Anywhere’ ran a dressage competition for people using hobby-horses; they were filmed in their own gardens, driveways, bedrooms and fields. Some dressed up very smartly indeed, a la the real event. They paid an entry fee, begged sponsorship and amazingly raised almost £2000. Coupled with the auction of the smartest ever hobby-horse called Valegro II (pictured) a one legged replica of Charlotte Dujardin’s famous Olympian winner, (pictured together) they sent nearly £4K to the NHS Charities Together Covid-19 appeal. What a brilliant effort.

Our life here continues very happily. We are well looked after, the weather is lovely, and the country is looking fantastic. Best of all, our water buckets are kept filled up by the team. So guess what we’ll be saying soon? The grass is looking a bit sparce and the 10 members of the herd outside will be asking for RAIN to green it up again. Can’t win!

Stay safe our humans, look forward. We shall get back to work eventually.



May 2020 (No 130)

Hello friends, welcome to my blog, and thank you for your visit.

As I write there is talk of a gradual easing of the lock down, and a slow return to normal.  You humans have had it tough this last month and we horses don’t have any idea of what you are going through but we can pick up on humans’ anxieties. Its something to do with our flight mechanism, if anyone in the herd has a fright we all catch on and want to run! It’s a wonder we can be taught to behave at all, really, and it goes to show how trust between a horse and its owner can make all the difference. So we here, at the Centre, have infinite trust in Lyn and her team to keep us safe. It’s not all about filling our bellies, despite how it looks. Behind the very important matter of food and water is the backroom team, the ground maintenance people, the able bodied riders, and of course the volunteer help for the rides.

Which brings me to what I’ve heard about you people out there. Unlike us, you have a choice in how you operate. Despite the fact that you feel worried for your safety, and that of your own herd, you do your work. You may not wake up feeling brave, or that you are going to change the world, but none the less you go to work to keep your fellow men safe, healthy, fed and watered, and maintained in as normal a way as possible. You have something much more important than the mantle of heroism: a sense of duty, a sense of loyalty to your role, a sense of compassion and a sense of determination. I think that’s brave.

So many of our volunteers at Shelley are retired and of a certain age, confined to barracks. So they are missing out on family and friends, and all the activities that kept them young in heart. I do hope most of them can get out and walk around, enjoy the sun and wind, and keep their courage up.

The live herd here just keep on eating, strolling around our lovely fields, creating work for the human team and waiting for things to get back to normal. No worries, as they say.



April 2020 (No 129)

Extraordinary times indeed! The Shelley Centre is closed for the foreseeable future and there is no therapeutic work being carried out up here. We feel very sad. Knowing that all my readers are in the same situation makes me wonder what on earth to write that will give your spirits a lift.

Being British-made I’ll start with the weather. Then again that’s a bit hard for me since I live in a closed and locked room. Its not too bad because there’s only me and BABS, we don’t have to look after anybody else, we don’t need to entertain ourselves all day and we don’t quarrel. We just switch off. So I’m worrying about my vulnerable riders and their carers. Are their care packages holding up? What if the main carers fall sick? What do feisty teenage riders do when they can’t go out at all? Does everybody understand why he/she is in lock down?

Our live herd is oblivious to these questions of course. It is loving the warmth of the sun, the drying up of the mud, the sweet Spring grass. Lyn, their Mum, is having to ration all the smaller ponies lest they over indulge themselves. My photo shows Parys and Tilly discussing the lock down together. Lyn’s team of able bodied riders is somehow managing to keep them all fit and healthy, ready for when our work can start up once more. There are 11 of these four legged ‘health workers’ at Shelley, and they are determined to stay fit.

Luckily one of my riders, Rebecca Jackaman, passed her Gold level Horse Care test and was presented with her certificate by Sue Diggins just before we had to close. This is a big achievement and takes time and hard work to learn all the details required for a pass. Many congratulations Rebecca, We’re so proud of you.

One sad casualty from this virus has been the cancellation of a visit by HRH The Princess Royal, who had kindly scheduled a visit to us in April. Reluctantly, she, who never lets any one down, had to obey orders from the Government this time. We were all so looking forward to her arrival: she would have been presenting certificates to those of our riders who have been with us for our 30 years. Naturally I was also planning to show her what my riders can do, I bet she would have loved that!

You will have heard that our fund raising activities have come to a grinding halt. We shall be feeling the pinch, just like all the other charities out there. If any readers would like to support us with a little donation we should be immensely grateful. The Centre plans to reopen as soon as we are allowed to, but meanwhile here’s hoping our family of riders and volunteers stays safe and well. Keep washing your hands people, and God bless you all.



March 2020 (No 128)

My photos this month show boys from Chalk Hill School in Sudbury enjoying their Thursday morning at the Centre. You’ll see they like chatting to the horses’ heads. Funnily enough none of the lads is keen to pick hooves, groom, or sweep up poos whilst visiting us! Part of their therapy is to learn responsibility, gentleness around the ponies, good manners and listening skills. No swearing allowed, always thank the helpers and your own horse after a ride and of course if you don’t listen to instructions you can come a big cropper. Their Coach and our chairman, Jan, stands no nonsense and she and her team thoroughly enjoy helping theses boys to a better attitude and building confidence in their own abilities. When all six boys turn up it’s a great ride to watch. I like seeing six of our live herd in the arena together, with competent riders aboard, no side walkers, and Jan putting them through their paces. One photo shows the whole ride setting out to enjoy a road hack, something our riders enjoy enormously. Shelley is such a great place to spend time in; even though I never get out of my ‘room’ I hear all about it and can guess our lads enjoy being out of the arena for a change. So do their mounts!


The wettest February on record has made even us up here on the hillside miserable. The field gates are churned up to destruction and the poor horses look totally fed up. Our Mum, Lyn, has had the devil of a job keeping their spirits up. Of course I’ve had plenty of extra work too, which I thoroughly enjoy: any rained off rides come indoors to learn about stable management and visit me for a short session improving their strength and balance on my big black back.

I hear we are now in Lent, preparing for the most important festival of Easter. It doesn’t mean much to me, but I understand that humans are supposed to exercise some self control during these 40 days! Ha, does that mean less cake at snack time? Hope not, how about everyone who reads this doing a bit more of something, like my friend Hazel? She held a pancake party on Shrove Tuesday, raising £77 for The Shelley Centre, thank you so much! Although Hazel lives in Bury St Edmunds the nice thing for us is she still visits, as she worked here recently, capping off her almost 50 years as a RDA volunteer.

We’ve had more support from Essex University in the form of seven volunteers coming here on their Charity Day and helping Lyn. She found the most horrible jobs for them to do, clearing out the rubbish from beside the manure heap (ugh) and washing the tarpaulin that they found so that it is back in use; getting really wet and muddy and finally petting the Shetlands. Good job, dear students, hope you enjoyed yourselves.

The fundraising team would like you to join it on Saturday April 25th for a ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ charity quiz night at Polstead Village Hall. Tickets, which include supper, available from Chris Southgate on 58aldham@gmail.com for £15 and you can now pay on-line! See, we are moving with the times at last.

Everyone here can see what the rain has done to our farming friends and their crops. Let’s hope March sees the end of all the storms and that the land can start to recover and our riders can start to be outside again. Cheerio!



February 2020 (No 127)

Ho ho, this is the leap month! I hope the extra day is a bonus to you all, and that people learning their 4x table enjoy working out other leap years in their lives. Did you know how important maths is in my life? As a simulator I should not be able to work without the computer programme that runs me. My little old friend BABS is entirely electrical mechanical, someone from another age, bless her. But we work together to help those riders who can’t be on a live horse when they come to the Shelley Centre.

You all know how boring the winter months are, what with the dark evenings, the rain and the mud. I can hardly report on anything exciting happening up here since Christmas, and I have to admit that I failed to get 30 people to give me their reasons for being involved here before the year of our 30th anniversary ended. Luckily our umbrella organisation copied my idea and went for 50 people to celebrate the 50th birthday of the Riding for the Disabled Association and the page on their website is truly brilliant. www.rda.org/50-faces/

I thought I’d borrow a couple of examples to whet your appetite, or in case you don’t get to browse that page yourself. This is an ex jockey, now an RDA client: Tyrone Williams:

“In my career I rode about 850 winners. When you’re an apprentice, you can’t wait to go racing. 15 years in, it’s just another day. I never got nervous, but I promise you now you’ve got to have bottle. I can’t think about that now. I had the stroke 3 years ago when I was 49. I wasn’t racing anymore but I was still riding out. I couldn’t tell you what happened for the first three months. I didn’t know where I was. Every day after that I’ve been trying to get better. I didn’t know about RDA until I moved back to Lambourn. It’s a big step. I’d been used to riding horses my whole life but I hadn’t ridden for two years. I wasn’t sure I could do it. Right from the first day I was determined to walk to the mounting block and leave my wheelchair at the gate. Getting on wasn’t pretty, but we’ve found a way. When I got on that first time I remember feeling so happy and thinking that’s it – I’m back. Coming to RDA is a new step. From where I am now, I can only get better.”

This is Matt Dalley, Para-Showjumper and dressage competitor who is deaf: “So there’s lots of bits to my RDA story, and it’s all really important to me. I think in sign language, then I have to remember the English words and then I have to try and remember the English grammar and what order I should put the words in, and change them from how I have it in sign in my head and put it in English. In my family I am the only one who is deaf. The autism also makes it hard for me. I don’t always like being with people all the time. So I suppose now my life is all about the horses, and everything that links with them. When I started riding I was six. I had a leader and side walkers. We went slowly so it was easy for someone to walk next to me and do signing. As I got better and faster that was a bit of a problem! These days I have my own horse and I compete in Para-Showjumping and dressage.

I’m really proud to be a volunteer. When I started I did things like grooming, helping with tacking up, and things around the yard. As I got older and started doing more on the computer I found there were other things that I could do to help. That developed into social media, and now that’s the focus of the volunteering work I do. The aim is to make people aware of what’s happening, to get them involved and get more people to understand what we do.”

My grateful thanks to these two chaps who showcase their involvement with the RDA, and I do hope you’ll enjoy exploring the lives of the other 48! They are full of surprises.

Now, looking ahead to early March here at Shelley: on 5th March at Polstead Village Hall there will be a charity bingo night with cash prizes. Tickets £5.00 include 1 book of bingo tickets. BYO drink and glasses! (Tea and coffee free.) Sounds like a laugh to me! Tickets are available from the Centre as usual.





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