Pupils from The Swanage School were lucky enough to get to meet three-times Olympic medallist, the cyclist Victoria Pendleton at a Dorset charity that helps youngsters build their confidence by working with horses.
When she was a little girl, Victoria explained she asked Father Christmas for a pony. She got a bike instead. That didn’t turn out too badly in the end but her love of horses is still there.
“Good for the soul”
The students from The Swanage School, who were delighted to discover that the Olympian shared their passion for horses, are developing their equine skills at the Royal Armoured Corps Saddle Club in Bovington.
Victoria Pendleton, who now lives in Poole, said:
“Being involved with horses is much more than competing or racing, it’s the life skills, the resilience, the confidence that it gives you. Spending time with these wonderful but unpredictable animals is good for the soul.”
“New project for the school”
The youngsters groom the horses, feed them, clean the stables and even get to ride them. They also study towards the British Horse Society (BHS) achievement awards.
Sue Fane, higher level teaching assistant at The Swanage School, said:
“It’s a whole new project for the school this term and it has already had a wonderful impact with the students who take part.
“As they grow in confidence, they become happier and, in the end, they get more out of life and out of school as well.”
Death of nephew
Stephanie Buchanan, coach and yard manager, has been at the stables for more than 30 years. She introduced the BHS Changing Lives Programme at the RAC Saddle Club two years ago.
She explained that working with young people became a huge part of her life, following the sudden death of her nephew William Paddy at just 15 years old. His death prompted the formation of the wellbeing charity for young people Willdoes.
Apprentice Karl Jenkins from Wareham – who has been helped by the project – was recently among 36 winners at an award ceremony at Newbury Racecourse which Anne, the Princess Royal, and BHS President Martin Clunes attended.
“Horses are non-judgmental”
Stephanie explained how horses help improve the lives of youngsters:
“Horses are non-judgmental and mirror our emotions and thoughts. The horse helps young people to be aware of those thoughts and feelings and develop an ability to control and channel their own behaviour and change the way they communicate and establish better relationships.
“The youngsters are going back into school calmer and with better concentration.”
Help for veterans
Stephanie is still involved with competitive riding and works with the military and veterans, some of whom have trauma-related conditions like PTSD.
As for Victoria Pendleton, she only took up riding at the age of 34, when she had retired from cycling.
“I’m terrified, I’m a long way off the ground”
“I knew in the first ten minutes it was for me. I thought: I’m terrified, I’m a long way off the ground, but this is brilliant. I instantly and utterly fell in love with horses.”
The cyclist – one of the most successful female Olympians in British history (two golds and a silver) – even got to fulfil an ambition and ride in a race at Cheltenham after just over a year of training in that very different kind of saddle.
The youngsters from The Swanage School were clearly delighted that the Olympian shared their new-found passion for horses.
Victoria Pendleton said:
“They really did come alive when they started talking about the horses. You can see just being around them breeds energy and life in the young people. You can read it in their faces.”