It’s taken several days to digest the wonderful news, during which I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on the many heartfelt messages from many people who have played an important part in my life and that of the Saddle Club. Reading the testimonials took me back to when it all began in 1990 and to receive messages from many of you from years gone by was just fantastic. It has been an incredible journey and I feel privileged to have so many supportive people through my time at the RAC, so from the bottom of my heart, a huge thank you to each and every one of you for your support and comments received.
Each decade of the growth of RAC Saddle Club comes with many stories, lots of laughter and tears, so this year we are going to hold a formal get-together to look back at all of those wonderful times together and reflect how we all had our part to play in the transformation of RAC Saddle Club. The event will be for all RAC Saddle Club members bringing together those who are here today and anyone who has passed through the gates since they opened in 1990.
Watch this space, more to follow. Here’s to an exciting 2024!
CLICK HERE TO READ ORIGINAL PRESS RELEASE.
Thank you for these wonderful testimonials, some great memories!
Nicola Dawson, livery and mum of pony club members
We arrived at The RAC Saddle Club, Bovington, in June 2016 with our New Forest Pony, Murphy. My daughter Maddy was 13 at the time and the only one of my four children that had taken up horse riding. We were welcomed into the Bovington family despite our pony being quite naughty and a bit of a challenge! Steph supported the youngsters with such dedication, helping them all to progress and develop a passion for British Eventing. In the summer of 2019, my youngest daughter, Josie, was diagnosed with severe anorexia nervosa. She was a British gymnast at the time competing on the international circuit. She was deteriorating rapidly and we were advised that inpatient hospital treatment was the only option if her weight did not increase. I took her with me to Bovington one afternoon to help my daughter Maddy ride. Steph had recently had a sudden and tragic family bereavement. Despite this, she approached Josie and took her to meet one of the ponies. She spent time with her and this special pony Rosie over the next few months and this was the key to Josie’s recovery. Without this support our lives would be very different today.
Steph has the ability to connect with young people and understand their difficulties, making a real difference to many young people’s lives. She is the heart and soul of The RAC Saddle Club. Her determination and strength in the face of adversity has been an inspiration to us all.
Vanessa Bye, former apprentice
I first met Steph in the Summer of 1992. I had just finished my GCSE’s and had come back from Germany where I had been a border. My father had been posted to Bovington where he had taken on the role of Treasurer to the Saddle Club, and my Mother had just bought a horse which she kept at Livery.
I had always wanted to learn to ride, but moving around so much meant that opportunities were limited. The summer of 1992 seemed like an ideal opportunity. At this time the RAC Saddle club consisted of 5 ponies and 5 Cavalry Blacks on loan from HCMR. Steph was the only instructor. There were about 20 livery horses, an indoor and outdoor riding school and a very small and compact cross country course which could be completed in about a minute (It was more for practice than anything else). The rest of the staff consisted of a SGT who was the Yard Manager, a handful of military grooms and a couple of YTS girls.
It was time for my first riding lesson and I was slightly horrified that I was to ride an enormous Cavalry Black called Ocharina. Steph reassured me and said there was nothing to fear. Ocharina was indeed a gentle giant. However, I didn’t account for my complete lack of balance and seat in the saddle. I fell off at every corner, and Steph undeterred kept getting me back on. I was pretty disappointed at how rubbish I was and thought maybe riding isn’t for me after all. Steph would have none of it and said I just needed to have some sessions on the lunge. And that was the start of my riding career, and also our 30 plus year friendship.
If I had to describe Steph in one word it would be impossible, there are so many that perfectly describe her. However, determined is a strong contender. She is the most determined person I know, and back then she was also ambitious. Not for herself, but for the Saddle Club. She knew pretty early on that it could be so much more than it was, and so began her quest to set about achieving it. She inspired me so much that by the time I had finished my A Levels, I knew I wanted to work with horses and was taken on at the Saddle Club as part of the YTS (an Apprenticeship today). As a friend she was fun, energetic, kind, loyal and caring. As a boss, she was tough but fair. She pushed us all to achieve our full potential and expected 100% in return. Failure for us, wasn’t an option for Steph. She would never turn you away if you were struggling with something and provided us all with as many learning opportunities as we wanted, if we were prepared to stay late and join other lessons etc. She accompanied each and every one of us to all our exams, and was always proud of our achievements.
The Saddle Club soon started to evolve. Steph’s reputation as a talented and successful trainer soon spread and this attracted more clients, and young girls like myself who wanted to achieve their BHS Qualifications. I was the first person in the County to do the new NVQ in Horse care at Level 3. I had also recently achieved my BHS AI in record time, and this had nothing to do with my talent, but more my luck and good fortune at having Steph as my Trainer and Mentor. Kingston Maurwood College were in the process of introducing an Equine Curriculum but had no facilities. Until these were ready, they chose to bus their students to Bovington, where they too received excellent tuition from Steph. The Saddle Club was expanding and its reputation was growing. Pony Club camps for all abilities were introduced, and Steph, always being inclusive and not wanting anyone to miss out hired out ponies for the week, so that those who were who weren’t fortunate enough to have their own could still take part. But, don’t let the children have all the fun! Adult camps were born and became increasingly popular. Steph and the team worked hard over the Summer, and as well as camps, there were shows and the completion of a proper Cross country course. Steph would always get stuck into any task, by now she was running the saddle Club single handedly, being paid a pittance but still willing to muck out, pull Ragwort, skip out fields and spend the night camping out in the stable of a sick horse. Frankly, I don’t know how she did it! Except to say, she had a lot of willing support because she had turned the Saddle Club into a Community and we were all like a big family. The Saddle Club was lacking in finances and at times things were looking bleak but Steph always managed to find a way to keep it afloat.
I left the Saddle Club 1n 1996 to go and work for the Household Cavalry in London. It was a hard decision to make and a very hard place to leave. Steph and I have always remained friends, she was bridesmaid at both my weddings and is Godmother to my daughter. She taught me as a young 17 year old to believe in myself, and that hard work pays off and I carry that with me to this day.
In the subsequent years since my departure I have not been surprised in the slightest to see that the RAC Saddle club is well and truly on the map. Not only as a registered examination centre and BE host site but also continuing its links to its Military heritage by supporting veterans and the many challenges they face, by either partnering with veterans charities or providing their own tailored support through therapies for physical and mental wellbeing. Children’s mental health sadly has also become endemic, and Steph and her family have been touched by the devastating consequences of this personally. As always Steph has channelled her energy into supporting children and their families affected by providing equine therapy and working closely with other organisations, something especially vital in the wake of the Covid Pandemic. As previously mentioned, Steph has always been inclusive and has always endeavered to ensure there are no barriers to anyone who wants horses in their lives, as such she continues to support the RDA and children and adults with disabilities.
I will finish here by saying what a truly inspirational person Steph is. She is also humble and many of her achievements have gone unrecognised. Especially in those early days. I have no doubt that the Saddle Club runs like clockwork now and is an extremely successful business, but back when it all started it was a very different story. It is only when you look back that the true scale of Steph’s achievement is evident. That said, community, friendship, inclusivity, and a love of horses has been the golden thread that has alwaysrun through it, and that is down to Steph.
Joanna Wood, former groom at RAC Saddle Club
Currently equine manager, Mounted Section, Gloucestershire Constabulary
I first arrived at the RAC Saddle Club, Bovington, in 2003 when I was looking for some structured training for my riding whilst doing some part-time work for a local equine dealer. After my first couple of lessons with Steph she offered me the chance to join her team on the yard. After 7 years of fun and friendship I now look back on my time and opportunities I was given at Bovington as being the best foundation for the career I have now – managing the Mounted Section for Gloucestershire for the last 6 years and resource manager for Hartpury College for 5 years before that.
Steph worked tirelessly on developing relationships with clients and liveries to ensure we had some lovely horses to ride to train towards industry exams (up to BHS Stage 4) and also gain experience within the competition circuit (up to Novice level). On reflection these were some super smart horses! Steph’s management of the relationships between livery owners and training staff meant that the horses’ progression and welfare were top priority at all times. Having not owned my own horse before, this was an incredible opportunity and one I will be eternally grateful for.
Steph also arranged regular top-class tuition from external instructors as well as almost daily inputs from her own experienced teaching. We rode newly-backed horses to novice eventers to Cavalry horses to hunting and ROR under her guidance – what an experience!
Teaching wise, it was always a fair distribution of Pony Club, private lessons, group lessons, troop leaders and liveries, and Steph empowered us to develop whatever riders we had in our sessions and was always on hand for advice.
In some respects Steph helped us help her build the reputation of the club and that is something we were all very proud of. She was always a sucker for the underdog and her kindness and determination to make everyone feel part of the club still goes on to this day. But I for one would not be where I am today without the opportunities, experiences and horses Steph and the Club made available to me and I really appreciate the trust and empowerment that came with it. To this day I always find myself telling stories of my time at Bovington, the horses (especially Avalon) and using them as case studies and examples to train my own tam today. Steph was a great mentor to me both personally and professionally during my time at Bovington and for years to come. The Saddle Club is a very special place and is very unique within the industry. I do hope it continues to provide others with the same opportunities I had… invaluable!