Once again this year, I was lucky enough to be part of Allegra's Ambition Ebony Horse Club Day on 24th July. And what an amazing day it was.
Following the success of last year, Allegra's Ambition and the Hampshire Hunt Pony Club co-hosted a day of tuition and fun for almost thirty children and young adults who travelled from South London to Herriard Park just outside Basingstoke. Some came last year so knew a little of what to expect, but for others, it was their first visit and for a few, the first time they had ever been out of London. Imagine then turning up to rolling countryside and having the place entirely to themselves for the day.
The other element that makes a day like this so special is the ponies that are lent by the pony club members and friends. There was a pony or horse for every rider who came, ranging from the typical small kick along to the Thoroughbred event horse. Imagine the thoughts going through both rider and horse. Can I really do this? Credit to all, the horses were amazing. Bear in mind, some were dragged from a field and others had been competing up and down the country just 24 hours before they were expected to be the perfect schoolmaster with a jockey who had never sat on them; and usually lucky to ride just once a week, such is the demand for places at Ebony Horse Club. The bond generated in such a short time was extraordinary. So much so, that had there been room on the coach, a couple of horses may have found themselves accompanying their new jockeys back to London.
Bringing an event like this together takes a huge amount of effort from lots of people, all of who give up their time. Allegra's mother Lucy is central to this as it was her idea to bring Ebony to Herriard as part of Allegra's Ambition (more on this in a bit), but without the HH ponies it wouldn't be what it is. Add to that, the five instructors (Julian, Ellie, Ingrid, Eliza and Cordelia) gave up their time to teach, Newlyns Farm donated food for the delicious BBQ and many parents and committee members provided the ever popular cakes. A shout out too to the support crew, those that covered the ground on foot leading their or someone else's pony to give one or two of the more nervous riders the confidence to go a bit faster or jump a little higher than they thought they were capable of. And to the fun had during the lunchtime break when two Shetland ponies in carts came and gave mini driving lessons. As if the riders hadn't done enough in their morning session a full on game of football was a great bonding tool before an afternoon of more riding.
Allegra was an active member of the HH for six years (riding was just one of several sports she excelled at) and it's her friends and their friends who volunteered their ponies and their time to help. And they did it brilliantly again this year in memory of an incredibly talented child whose life was cut so short just 16 days after her 16th birthday.
Allegra's Ambition, established by her family and friends in Allegra's memory, aims to help other, often disadvantaged young people, to enhance their lives through participation in sport and outdoor activities.
It also encourages young people to help build the charity - setting personal fundraising challenges and volunteering at Allegra's Ambition sponsored events. Allegra was always proactive and she had great ideas. If it was fun, if it was a challenge, if it was inclusive, if the goal was worthwhile – then Allegra wanted to do it.
Ebony Horse Club encapsulates this. The charity was founded 21 years ago with children travelling to riding schools in and around London but in 2011, they achieved the dream of building their own community riding centre right in the heart of Brixton. The centre, home to nine horses, is hidden between high rise flats and the railway line, in one of the most disadvantaged inner city neighbourhoods in the country. The young rarely have positive contact with animals, especially horses but Ebony Horse Club provides the opportunity to think and gain new experiences outside the box of negative stereotypes - and to benefit from the powerful, life-changing influence that contact with horses can bring.
Ebony offers much more than riding lessons, it also mentors children who experience significant challenges at school and at home - challenges that can profoundly affect their ability to achieve later in life.
To learn more about these incredible charities, follow these links: