Equestrian life in Bexley

PUBLISHED: 09:38 02 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:29 20 February 2013

Equestrian life in Bexley

Equestrian life in Bexley

Looking after riders of all abilities is key to the success of family-run Mount Mascal Stables, which may be one of the largest riding centres in the south east but still has a very warm and caring heart

Horse sense

Looking after riders of all abilities is key to the success of family-run Mount Mascal Stables, which may be one of the largest riding centres in the south east but still has a very warm and caring heart

Think of Bexley and you dont tend to picture stunning rural views, but once youve reached the end of the very long lane that leads to Mount Mascal Stables, youre surrounded by such beautiful countryside and woodland that its a shock to see a distant Canary Wharf and realise London is only a 25-minute train ride away.

Its also the largest riding centre within the M25, and behind its success is a highly committed father and daughter team, backed by 24 full-time staff, volunteers and helpers. Alison Window, who cant remember a time when she wasnt riding, takes up the tale.

My mother, Pam, always had a passion for horses. After she married my father, he bought her a 13.2hh pony for 65, which was to be stabled with her friends horse at a disused dairy farm in Bexley, called Mount Mascal Farm.

There were five or six horses, stabled in the milking parlour, and it seemed a good idea that dad should have a horse too. My mother began collecting the stable rents on behalf on the farm owner, which meant mum and dad could keep their horses there free of charge.

Money was very tight and when the bank manager told them their overdraft had reached 50, dad announced theyd have to sell one of the horses or start a riding school.

So the Windows bought two more horses and opened up for business. Forty five years later, Mount Mascal Stables is going from strength to strength and now extends across 70-80 acres, with two yards on the one site, including the delightfully rural Taylors livery yard and the busy original yard, where the riding lessons are conducted. There are 140 ponies across the two sites.

John Window, 70 this year, is largely involved now in project management and it is Alison who does the day-to-day running and looks after customers and staff, both paid and unpaid ranging from 30 on a helpers scheme initiated in 2008, buddying between older and younger students, plus guiding two16-year-olds currently pursuing their NVQ apprenticeship scheme.

Alison was born in Sidcup and grew up in Biddenden, where the family had a farm as well as running the equestrian centre in Bexley. An ex-Ashford School pupil, she enjoyed hunting with the Ashford Valley Hunt and competed heavily, winning the international schools jumping award at Hickstead at the age of 15.

She deliberately chose not to go straight into the family business, but instead read development studies at Leeds University and joined her father eight years ago after a seven-year gap of living and working abroad, travelling and studying.

I came in at a good point in dads life, as its been hard for him to move the business forward on his own, turning old school into new school, she says. I brought in some new youth and enthusiasm and Ive dragged us into the 21st century weve got to be innovative and ahead of the game.

Alison particularly enjoys hacking now and her annual treat is to hunt on Boxing Day. I am encouraging more people to get involved in outdoor riding, which is essentially how I learnt myself because the indoor school wasnt here back then. Mum, as a jockey, was always vey keen on outdoor riding, she explains.

While Alison no longer competes, her experience gained at Hickstead has helped her enormously with the shows she holds at Mount Mascal. We run a dressage series in the summer and a winter series for four months, plus Bank Holiday shows, like our big event over the August Bank Holiday when we are open to the public to let them see what we do. This year we will also have stalls, a tombola - make it a real family day out.

Pupils can start as young as four, though Alison has been asked about 16-month-olds taking lessons, and her current eldest rider is an extremely fit regular aged 69.

We take a complete mix of abilities thats our ethos, its riding for the masses, and our prices are very competitive because the sport has so much to offer everyone. We do special needs riding as well and weve had kids and helpers who are autistic, plus a child with MS where the movement of the horse has helped their muscle growth and they can now sit up in the saddle rather than lie down. The ponies are very intuitive and behave beautifully.

Some things havent changed, however: the proportion of boys to girls is 20/80 in favour of girls. The boys like the speed and competitive nature, girls are more interested in grooming and nurturing. So for the boys who come here we have to market it as a challenging and competitive sport to attract them, says Alison.

We often get parents who start to ride once they see how much their children are enjoying it. We can offer hacking in Joydens Woods next door, which is owned by the Woodland Trust, on whose behalf we operate the Horse Riding Permit Scheme, and as were so close to London, our riders who are commuters can come straight here for an evening ride from work.

Mount Mascal also encourages appreciation and respect for the natural and farming environment and interested pupils can work towards a non-equine Pony Club badge by taking part in activities such as nature walks, wild life, country side awareness and bird watching.

Primarily, we promote the highest ideals in everyhting we do here, says Alison. Riding can help develop sportsmanship, citizenship, strength of character and self-discipline. It helps get the kids off the streets with a great recreational activity that offers plenty of exercise and fresh air. Were very much a community and people feel very safe and welcome.

Top tips for first-time riders

● Have a taster lesson, either as a private lesson or in a group (taster lessons held on Sat and Sun at 3pm, 18 for an hour)

● You dont have to buy all the kit at first, just a tight-fitting trouser, gloves and a shoe with a smooth heel and a small heel is fine to start off with (hats are supplied), then as you advance and commit, get jodphurs, jodhpur boots and riding gloves: Mascals also sells hats

● Once you commit, join the Pony Club for 22 a year; this gives you a discount of 3 every visit, so its then just 15 an hour

● Staff are highly trained in mixed-ability groups

● You dont have to ride every week, some do every other week, others once a month

● Aim to progress through the Pony Club scheme from level one, the E test, to the highest level A test

● Listen to your instructor, remember to reward your pony, if they are good and most importantly - have fun!

Mount Mascal Stables

Vicarage Road

Bexley DA5 2AW

Tel symobl: 020 8300 3947

Open seven days a week (except Christmas day and Boxing Day)

Rides and lessons start on the hour from:

9am-8pm Mon-Thur

9am-5pm Fri

9am-4pm Sat and Sun

Summer events

20 Jun Dressage Summer Series (Round 2) schedule

18 Jul Dressage Summer Series (Round 3) schedule

30 Aug Annual August Bank Holiday Show: showjumping, ridden, in-hand classes

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