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Raising horses as a family

PUBLISHED: 09:42 10 January 2017 | UPDATED: 09:42 10 January 2017

Joao on Sandy and Bella, 3, on Jojo

Joao on Sandy and Bella, 3, on Jojo

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

A life with horses is no easy ride but one full of dedication, financial commitment, early mornings and safety awareness – especially with children involved. Words by: Rebecca Durrant. Pictures by: Manu Palomeque

Ollie, 11, with Black Jack, Bella, 3, on Jojo and Ella, 6, on Peggy SueOllie, 11, with Black Jack, Bella, 3, on Jojo and Ella, 6, on Peggy Sue

Kentish livery yard owner and mum of two, Louise Barr, is only too familiar with the devotion that goes into looking after horses and ponies, having been involved with them all her life.

With a busy yard of 20 horses and little time to ride much herself these days, it is children Ella, six and Ollie 11, who are picking up the reins at their 120-acre farm in Bearsted.

“Both Ella and Ollie were about two when they first started and went off the lead at about five. It progressed more easily for my daughter because she saw her brother doing it.

“Ella has just moved on to a bigger pony, having started on Peggy-Sue, a black and white Shetland. She is now riding another pony called Black Jack who she has not quite grown into yet, she is a bit in between the two.

Ollie, 11, with Black Jack and Ella, 6, on Peggy SueOllie, 11, with Black Jack and Ella, 6, on Peggy Sue

“Oliver rides Black Jack or my horse, Morse, who is just over 16 hands tall. Oliver also plays a lot of cricket and rugby and this is one of the things I expect many parents find, that often their children don’t have enough time to ride.”

Having grown up at Barty Farm and now taken it on from her parents Louise and husband Alan (who owns another farm in Lenham) rear a herd of Romney Marsh sheep. Being the base for the livery business has meant that a certain lifestyle has been made possible for the whole family.

Louise says it was natural for her children to follow her into riding, as she did with her own late mother, Prue Filmer, a successful three-day eventer. As well as competing Prue produced many top horses, including one she sold to Captain Mark Phillips that went on to win Badminton.

“I was about three when I first had a pony, but even younger when I was first sat on horses. My mother used to put me on their backs when I was a baby while she mucked them out; she said at least she knew where I was then.”

Louise Barr with her dogs Bentley, a German Shepherd, Barney, a black terrier and Luna, a six month-old pugLouise Barr with her dogs Bentley, a German Shepherd, Barney, a black terrier and Luna, a six month-old pug

This unconventional mode of transport continued with subsequent generations. “For me the Shetland was a little bit like a pushchair and when I used to take the dogs for a walk on the farm it was as easy to plonk the child on top of the pony as it was to push a buggy.”

It is natural for some children to feel nervous about riding and both Ella and Ollie have felt this way in the past. However, Louise says that neither of the children has been afraid of horses because they have always been around them. She points out that despite many parents having concerns about riding, there are many safeguards in place.

She says: “You must have a correctly fitting hat, you can get back protectors now if you want them, and I think you have just got to be sensible – I mean kids can fall over and break their arm running after a football.

“Both of my children have fallen off but I think that just makes them a bit tougher. My son plays rugby and they have some real crunches and that makes me cringe more because I feel a bit powerless, whereas because I’m horsey I feel more confident with riding. I am in my comfort zone and it’s such a natural way of life for me, I don’t really think about it. Why would it be any different for my children?”

Louise is a firm believer that riding is good for character building and teaching children many valuable life lessons.

“Horses are the best levellers – you think it’s going right, then it can suddenly go wrong. You can have half an hour of things going wrong but that five minutes of it going right makes it all worthwhile. Responsibility is a massive thing for children to learn from riding – if they don’t get up and feed a pony, well you can’t keep animals like that. And it’s a very sociable thing, we have a real little social network on the yard and it’s full of children and just really lovely, safe fun,” Louise says.

Her children love the independence and freedom that riding affords and both enjoy the varied activities on offer. And with the influence of an international showjumper Joao Charlsworth based at the yard, they have both shown special interest in this area.

“We are very lucky to have him on our doorstep to teach because teaching your own children to ride is very difficult,” Louise says.

“I did teach Ollie a bit and I do some with Ella but it never normally ends that well, so Joao and I have come to an agreement; I will teach his child and he will teach mine.”

Louise stresses that owning horses is a huge commitment and not a decision to be taken lightly. She is quick to make her children realise that they have to pull their weight if they want to continue with their ponies.

“If you want to put a horse on livery in what we call a DIY, you have to be at the yard twice a day because they need feeding and watering morning and evening, turning out and exercise. Buying the horse is the cheap bit. You must make sure you can finance vet bills, farriers every five or six weeks, wormers, horse feed, hay; there are so many costs.”

But the positive opportunities riding can provide children are huge. “It opens up another world of friends. There are lots of clubs kids can get involved in when you own a horse and they do lovely things like camps. It keeps you physically fit. I am a great believer in healthy germs; you certainly get a few of those being outside a lot and you very rarely see my kids, me or Joao with a cold or feeling ill.

“When you own a horse it is a way of life, you don’t begrudge the early mornings, or only rarely, because you look forward to going and seeing them. I find horses so comforting and when you have had a bad day they don’t tell you you’re an idiot, they are completely non-judgemental. You can never fully trust horses as they are animals, but I think trust them a bit more than I trust some people.”

Leading the way

With his roots in Portugal, but now happily ensconced at Barty Farm, international show jumper Joao Charlsworth came to the UK searching for top advice and horses and it certainly paid off.

Based at Louise and Alan’s farm, the elite coach - who is a level three BSJ (British Equestrian show jumping) qualified - has certainly made his mark in the equestrian world.

Joao was placed in the Hickstead Derby, competed at the Nations Cup in Lisbon for his country as well as winning the Young Rider’s Championships there. He has also produced horses which have competed at the Olympic games.

Having moved on site in April, Joao is now helping Louise to develop the equestrian facilities at the farm for new and experienced riders, including the development of arenas, derby courses and producing the next young horses for Grand Prix level. He now splits his time between competing at show jumping events and teaching at the yard.

But he is not the only member of the family to relish a life with horses as wife Maxine and three-year-old daughter Bella-Rae are also very much involved.

Joao explains: “Bella-Rae has just started to ride. She has a tiny pony called Jojo and he is a Falabella (a type of miniature horse) and she recently went to her first show with Louise’s daughter Ella.

“She wants to jump already and it’s quite good because Ella who is jumping a little bit now is a great inspiration for her and so Bella wants to catch up.”

Joao adds: “She loves it if I am teaching someone here in the arena she will be shouting “one, two, three – jump” and that’s obviously something that she’s picked up from me teaching and she’s telling the pupils - even adults what to do.”

Although Bella-Rae is still on the lead with her pony she is, according to her proud dad, fearless. “She canters better than she trots and jumps a pole better than she trots as well. She thinks trotting is boring and wants to race when she and Ella go out,”

On teaching kids to ride Joao says: “If they pick it up quickly that’s great, fantastic, if they don’t, they don’t but as long as they are having fun they are going to grow in confidence and then we will see where it takes them.

“Yes you can get some kids who are a little bit shy and need to have a little push in the right direction and then you get the cocky ones who think they know it all and get knocked back. It’s quite a task everybody learns individually and differently and you find the ones who are quiet actually tend to take it in more and come out at the end as better riders.”

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