Ebony’s Blog -  Life at The Shelley Centre




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!



July 2018 (No 109)

I am soooo proud of my riders! As you know, I help people who can no longer ride a live animal to continue having therapy on my back (and Babs help out too) so that they can keep up their strength. It’s great fun for me listening in to their gossip and learning about their achievements in life. So here comes Evie, one of my Friday riders, just coolly writing a play and having it staged at The Red Rose Theatre in Ipswich! She was the star of the show and her play highlighted the frustrations of being wheel chair bound, and having to accept this as one’s lot. Evie, I know how you feel, I’m stuck too, and my joys come from meeting people like you.

Rebecca Page is a friend of Evie’s. Acting and directing may not be her thing but guess what? She likes to challenge herself. So having achieved her Horse Care Proficiency Certificate in Silver last November, she set out to get Gold this year. Both she, and Margaret, her coach, had masses of homework to get through and so much to learn. I was listening and trying to keep up, but it was all a bit beyond me. I stuck to my paces giving Rebecca all the support I could from underneath. Well ladies and gentlemen she got it! Sue Diggins came and tested her (for 45 minutes) on every conceivable aspect of horsey stuff, it was amazing to hear. Margaret, who has known Rebecca since she first came here aged three, was over the moon! Her photo of Rebecca and Sue shows me in the background, by the way.

This year our Shelley Show took a different turn: the dressage section was ridden on the afternoon or Tuesday 12th June, leaving Sunday 24th June entirely devoted to The Countryside Challenge. My photos show Dawid setting off to do his dressage test looking extremely smart, and Jennifer putting Bob through his paces. Look at all the results page in the News item on our website.

If you live near enough to Bury St Edmunds do visit our stand at the Festival Fun Day in Nowton Park on Sunday 22nd July. It promises a ”day of fun for all the family” from 11 o’clock onwards, with lots of entertainment and things to do. Hopefully there will a photo of yours truly on our publicity board too. We shall of course be showing photos of all the work completed already thanks to the Masonic Charitable Foundation grant, which was launched this time last year.

Just to finish off with a reminder of the glorious weather in June, here’s Kay Kay enjoying her ride on Bob in the fields above Shelley. Just look at that blue sky!



June 2018 (No 108)



I do love having visitors! May was great from my point of view: Essex University students came to do voluntary service here so we really had them working hard. Weeding, mowing, grooming and, worst of all, uprooting ragwort. The weather was perfect and the Bret valley looked beautiful, so they all fell in love with Shelley. They asked a million questions about us, and as the 11 students came from about 7 different countries, we were very happy to spread the word about RDA to an international audience. The students are pictured looking well exercised after their morning out of doors!

2018JuneBlog3Then we had a visit from Bures & District Agricultural Club for an evening at the Centre, where they met all the ponies and saw me work, one of them was brave enough to have a ride on me so I behaved beautifully as usual. Here they are chatting to Tilly, whom they so


kindly sponsor.

The better weather has enabled some rides to step out into this lovely countryside, and have a change of scene. Education doesn’t stop on leaving the arena, though, our riders are challenged to look for and remember what they can see on the ride, and to tell their instructor (now called a ‘Coach’) what they noticed when they get back to the yard.

Lovely weather blessed the day of the Hadleigh Show (and I hear there was a wedding that day too?) Our volunteers and supporters, parents and carers all baked cakes for the Shelley Centre stall at the show and what with the gorgeous plants and all that tempting food for sale we were very pleased with the takings. I like the way everyone dressed in red, white and blue with wedding hats on top, you have to admire their efforts and sense of fun!

Thoughts are turning to our end of year Shelley Show on June 24th.  I shall have photos of the day’s activities next month. I get a bit jealous watching the live ponies being primped and permed in readiness for the show like Alfie here, with Chris his able bodied rider washing his tail. However you couldn’t wash my tail, I’d short my electrics, and I’ve had quite enough shortening for now, thank you.



May 2018 (No 107)

Dear Readers, its time for me to eat humble pie: I was so proud of being bigger (at 15hh) and more handsome than any of the live horses and ponies at Shelley, and now I am brought down! It was a carefully planned procedure that took place over the Easter holidays, involving moving me to one side, lowering the floor and tanking the hole, returning me to my place, and creating a strong removable floor over the void. Instructors can still stand beside my riders without having to be on a mounting block, and the technicians can still get to my innards to service me. Thanks to the money from the Masonic Charitable Trust, the skills of Tom Lowe, and the vision and drive of Margaret Fowler, here I am, standing at under 10hh, (about the same height as the Shetland ponies) and no longer able to see out of the window!

The photographer could have done better but I thought you’d like to see “Before’ and ‘After’ pictures of me in my room. Millie’s head is practically touching the ceiling as she practices trotting on my back before I was diminished. Evie, about the same height as Millie, is level with Margaret and there is plenty of room above her for the hoist. It’s a very clever solution to the mounting problem some of my riders had, and it could make me less scary for new riders to mount. So I won’t complain any more; I’ll just get on with doing what we all love doing here at the Centre: giving disabled people the chance to ride.

The kindness and ingenuity of people knows no bounds: I now have a flat screen and a webcam in front of my muzzle so my riders can see themselves in full HD as they take up my reins. Coming shortly will be video footage of proper country rides for my clients to enjoy, with change of pace available for the adventurous. 



We had some wonderful weather in April, and shirt sleeves were worn. Look at Xanthe riding Cindy in a sunny arena, with her team of helpers. And how about the glamour girls on the bench? These are some of the ‘Friday’ parents enjoying a moment’s relaxation whilst their offspring ride. I really hope the gods are kind and give us more of the same for the Sponsored Walk (May 6th) and the Hadleigh Show (May 19th ) where our team will be selling PLANTS and CAKES.



April 2018 (No 106)

Its more ‘thank you’s from us all, readers! The wonderful Hadleigh Community Choir chose to make a collection for us at their superb Valentine’s Concert in mid February. Not only that, they are sponsoring Belle from the live herd. My photo shows Stella Scanlon and John Turnbull handing over the cheque from the choir to Lyn Bensusan and Parys (the horse). Belle is pictured at work with pupils from Hampden House.

The ponies just love being sponsored, and keep in touch with their supporters throughout the year. You can find out how to be a sponsor from our new web page at www.shelleyrda.com

My own exciting news is that I am being SUNK in the Easter holidays! Thanks to the grant from the Masonic Charitable Foundation I am to have the floor, on which I sit, lowered; it is a brilliant solution to the problem of getting our more substantial riders onto my saddle to receive their therapy. It has taken us ten years to be able to get here, I might add.

There is another amusing and unusual fund raiser coming up on 19th April, an evening with Claire Bannister entitled ‘The Language of Clothes’ during which Claire will help her audience to find out what clothes and colours suit them best! Tickets are £7.30 each and the evening starts at 7pm in Boxford Village Hall. Ladies, you can’t miss it!

Talking of colours, little Alexia has it all wrapped up. Look at her gorgeous pink all-in-one suit and those fabulous boots! She is riding Suidgey and getting her core strength enhanced. She loves her session so much it always ends in tears, she does not want to dismount. Squidgey loves being her physiotherapist on a Friday afternoon.

Keep Sunday May 6th free to walk the walk. Back by popular demand, the Sponsored Walk will take you on a leisurely 12k ramble across the rolling fields and woods of this lovely district; well behaved dogs are also welcome, and no doubt there will be cake for those who complete the course!

Its hearing about the bluebells, nightingales, and fabulous views that make me feel a tiny bit jealous. For those of you who are reading this blog for the first time, I’m a simulator, I live indoors with my little friend Babs, and we supplement the therapy that the live horses and ponies give by allowing people, who can’t manage on one of them, to get on us. I don’t need a pony leader, but I have side walkers just like all the others. You should come and see me in action!

Our new riders are making good progress and the rearranged rotas are working. We still have room for more helpers though, and would love to welcome fresh faces into the Centre. Most Volunteers give a morning or an afternoon per week, during school term times only. Please contact us if you are thinking about doing something new: ‘horsey-ness’ is not a prerequisite; what we need is kindness, reliability and a sense of humour.



March 2018 (No 105)

What a great start to the Spring term we have had, despite the unfriendly weather. NINE new riders joined us and I was able to help in their assessments. The picture shows Dario, one of our new Monday riders, having his assessment on my back with Fiona, our long serving and very dedicated physio. Welcome to all our new riders and good luck with your progression here.

Thanks to the MCF grant (did we mention that before?) my hoist has been re-vamped and this has enabled more riders to be mounted on me. I am so pleased. Obviously my little friend Babs still has plenty of work, but she’s not as smart as I am; I’m much more like a real horse than she is and I think I give my riders more fun.

Outside my circle I hear the maintenance team is crying out for another member to help with grass cutting on a regular basis. You don’t have to use a scythe chaps, we have moved on, but we still need manpower to keep things healthy for the live herd, outside as well as in.

Lent will be in full swing when you read this, do you give up, or give, more to prepare for Easter? Last year Tuesday afternoon helpers did their fund raising around an Easter Egg raffle. Look at the size of the big prize, won by one of our lucky families!

Don’t forget our Quiz night on St Patrick’s Day, that’s 17th March to you and me.  This time its General Knowledge, which should stretch the little grey cells. Details from my Auntie Di as usual on 01473 658552 or from our brand new webpage at
www.shelleyrda.com See you there.





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