Overleigh Equestrian Centre near Wrexham provides horse riding lessons, Pony Club and volunteering opportunities for children, young people and adults. But ever since Joanne Spencer took the reins of the friendly yard in 1999, it has been providing so much more than just lessons and mucking out.
Horse riding charity adapts to Covid
A quick chat with Jo and it is clear she not only has a passion for horses but the benefits they bring to people:
“Horses are like therapy,” she says. “We have had groups of teenagers here who have been placed in specialised care. They had been in trouble for anti-social behaviour. But they started coming to Overleigh and it made such a huge difference.
“We had one lad who wouldn’t go anywhere; he flatly refused to go to school. He arrived here and he loved it. He started coming regularly and it wasn’t long before he began a phased return to school.”
And the examples keep coming. But, of course, Covid-19 changed everything.
Fortunately, the non-profit making charity was able to open when restrictions allowed during the last year, but many of Overleigh’s regulars have missed out on a lot. One lady in her forties who has learning difficulties has not been able to attend the centre since the first lockdown in 2020. Before then, she was making a 20-mile round trip to get to the yard once a week. In her weekly calls with Jo, it is obvious she is desperate to return, just like so many other regulars are.
They all appreciate the adaptations that the Overleigh Equestrian Centre has had to make in order for it to be Covid-secure. Fortunately, the charity has been helped along the way with grants from Sport Wales’ Be Active Wales Fund.
Firstly, they needed more riding hats to allow for quarantining between each use. Jo said: “Riding hats are about £60 each and in this economic climate that is a lot of money to spend, especially when you are just starting out as a beginner.”
The Be Active Wales Fund support has therefore been a huge boost, particularly as the centre serves nearby low income communities such as Plas Madoc and Cefn.
“We want everyone to have the opportunity to come here and enjoy what’s on offer,” says Jo.
Next the centre needed a one-way system through its stables for hat-fitting. This meant that some small building works were needed to reconfigure the space.
Equipment has always been shared by the team at the yard but this quickly became another area of concern. The grant has helped towards the cost of items such as extra wheelbarrows, yard brushes and shovels.
Jo and the team also need to refresh some qualifications so will invest some of the funding into safeguarding and First Aid courses. A cabin with an open side is also due to be built so that parents can watch their children take part, sheltered from the elements but in a ventilated, socially distanced space.
The support from the Be Active Wales Fund will not only allow service to resume at the Wrexham yard when the latest restrictions are eased, but it also means that Jo can continue her dream of helping vulnerable members of the community:
“I had a grant earlier last year from Sport Wales to help us pay for insurance which meant we could reopen. Now the latest grant means that we can put Covid compliant systems in place, enabling us to give more people more opportunities.”