Bistro Anniversary – by Lisa Gregory

I can hardly believe that in just a few weeks it will be four years since the diggers moved in and I saw my lifelong dream coming true.

It was January when construction started on my indoor arena and beautiful visitors’ lodge, and we lived with the mud and disruption until the doors finally opened in September 2016.

Happy birthday, dear Ranch Bistro

So, this year has brought the third birthday of the visitors’ centre – and, strangely, it has become such a part of the landscape at Cannock Chase Trekking Centre that it feels as if it has always been here.

When I gave up modelling for a career with horses, my dream was always to create an equestrian centre on my beloved Cannock Chase that would bring visitors from far and wide. And I always had in mind a state-of-the-art facility where my riders could enjoy a taste of “après-horse”.

The battle for planning permission was a long one, but when I saw the walls rising on my unique, architect-designed cedar lodge, I knew that all the stress and worry had been worth it.

And the last three years have exceeded my wildest dreams. The bistro and coffee shop are not simply a facility for my riders: the lodge has become a popular eating place for walkers, cyclists and Cannock Chase visitors of all ages. We attract more than 25,000 visitors a year.

The floor-to-ceiling windows provide panoramic views out over the Chase, and the outdoor patio is always packed in summer with customers enjoying the same landscape. And, of course, they love to see the horses coming and going on treks and lessons.

In the winter, the underfloor heating, blazing log burner and comfy furniture make it a cosy haven. I like to think that in the winter it is like a Norwegian ski lodge and in summer a ranch in the Wild West.

We have a separate area where events can be staged, and we have already had requests from people wanting to get married here!

‘Food, glorious food’

We’ve taken time and care in creating our menu, and now many people come simply because they enjoy the food. And, of course, it is a comfortable retreat for our riders. It has given our treks a social aspect and many friendships have been made over a cup of our barista-created coffee.

Our coffee is fresh from the roaster at Chartley Coffee, Hixon, a family business with over 40 years’ experience. It is the most amazing coffee, and our baristas create speciality drinks. Our luxury hot chocolates and milk shakes are renowned! Just pretend they are calorie free! Luckily, my mum, Carole Gregory, is a cake designer, and we always have her delicious creations on offer.

Head chef Samantha Edmunds is always developing the menu, which has a contemporary ranch-style concept, and she uses the freshest and highest-quality ingredients. Our meat and vegetables all come from local suppliers. We also cater for dietary problems, with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options always available.

We are very proud that we have twice received five stars for our hygiene ratings.

Events galore!

This summer, we have held our first evening events: two parties with a Western ranch theme, at which we served smokehouse barbecue food, and the guests enjoyed a riding display and a live band. Both events were really popular.

A few weeks ago we staged a Game Of Thrones-themed ride across the Chase. Our riders were in costume and enjoyed a medieval banquet when we got back. In December, we have a Christmas-themed ride and our first ever Christmas party.

The bistro’s success has exceeded all my expectations. I was never sure whether we were going to be a coffee shop or a restaurant, and I think we have settled nicely somewhere in between.

I am delighted with it – but we won’t be standing still. We are always looking at ways we can improve.

Connor – by Lisa Gregory

My new regular Horse of the Week feature is proving to be a popular one with my blog readers and my staff.

My yard team are enjoying the chance to pay tribute to any of our horses and ponies they consider to be doing an exceptional job – and it’s not that easy to choose, as we think they are all wonderful!

Karen’s choice

It’s now the turn of our BHS coach Karen Hudson to pick, and she has nominated our popular little chestnut Connor as her Horse of the Week.

Her choice also gets my vote as this fabulous Welsh Section D boy has a special place in my heart. I bought Connor when he was just six months old as a surprise 30th birthday gift for my sister. I presented him to her with a big bow round his neck, and she has loved him ever since.

I trained him for riding when he was four, and it was so easy as he took the whole process in his stride. Connor started his career as a trek leader with my sister in the saddle, and, although she doesn’t ride much any more, she is devoted to him.

He has never put a foot wrong – he is just perfect at any job he is given. He excels in lessons and in treks out on Cannock Chase.

And anyone who saw him in our ranch-party Western riding displays last summer would think he had been barrel racing all his life! Now over to Karen…

My Mr Reliable – by Karen Hudson

When I was asked for my nomination for Horse of the Week, one name popped straight into my head.

There was no doubt at all that it had to be Connor, the first horse I ever taught a pupil on after I started as a coach here at the trekking centre. Lisa’s horses were just getting used to working in the new indoor arena, and I took a complete beginner in there for a lesson on Connor. He never put a foot wrong.

From day one, he has been the most consistent horse I use for lessons. He is amazing for the children in group lessons, and in one-on-one coaching sessions he is fantastic, whether the rider is a child or an adult. Connor is always top of my list for lesson choices and the one I always turn to. He is excellent at teaching people to canter.

He had never done polework before, but, recently, he has really taken to it and is now popping little fences with genuine enjoyment.

I cannot say enough good things about Connor – he makes my job so pleasurable. I can put anyone on him, from a complete beginner to an advanced rider, and he will always look after them and give his best.

He gives his riders the confidence to try other horses. And if someone is having a bad day or finds their confidence a little shaky I always recommend they have a lesson on Connor. He will always behave himself and will always go beautifully.

Connor is my number one and my Mr Dependable. I absolutely adore him.

Introducing Mat – by Lisa Gregory

I am so lucky that I have an expert support team, which is essential to keep a facility of the size of Cannock Chase Trekking Centre running to my high standards. The health and happiness of all my horses is my priority, and I leave nothing to chance when it comes to their care. I have already introduced you to our fantastic farrier Karl Jones, who is here every week with a programme of foot care that is personalised to each horse.

Now it is the turn of another specialist who is essential to our work here at the centre. We don’t see as much of Mat Carter as we do of Karl, but he is vitally important.

Mat is our equine dentist with his own practice, Midland Equine Dental Services, and his annual visit is an intensive couple of days as he and his final-year apprentice, Jack Trinder, work their way steadily through all the horses.

Mat was a trainee farrier when I first met him in 1996, then he switched to dentistry and he began caring for my horses as soon as he qualified.

I firmly believe that dental care is essential and can help prevent other health problems, such as colic, so Mat starts with my young horses very early to get them used to the procedures. We don’t have any misbehaviour from any of them.

We tend to schedule his visit for early winter, when our busy summer season is over, and he will talk me through any problems that he finds. Sometimes he discovers something that will require a follow up visit; this time, he has found that a couple of horses would benefit from having their teeth brushed regularly. That’s a new task for my yard team!

I am always happy when Mat’s visit comes around. My wonderful stallion Zidane has a history of problems caused by a lack of dental care when he was a young horse, before I bought him. He is always a worry to me, and although he is under the care of my vet, it is always a relief when Mat checks him over.

And it is great that Mat knows our vets and will liaise with them, so they can work together if necessary. It means the best of care for my horses. Now let’s hear from Mat…


I was originally going to be a farrier, but in the late 1990s I opted to switch and train as an equine dentist. There was a gap in the market, and I decided to fill it (Lisa – that’s Mat’s terrible dentist joke!).

I saw an equine dentist at work one day and thought it looked interesting, so I started making enquiries. In 1998, I went to West Virginia in the United States to begin my training at the American School of Equine Dentistry, and for three years I travelled backwards and forwards across the Atlantic until I qualified.

Now I have my own practice, and I am a member of the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians and the International Association Of Equine Dentists.

It’s all gone technological!

Equine dentistry has progressed and developed dramatically over the years. The old treatments before I joined the profession could be quite barbaric and no longer exist. We have electric tools now to make the procedures quicker and easier, but I still use manual tools on horses that do not like the sound of the electricity. Mine is a bespoke service; some horses will take an electric rasp, others prefer manual. So I do whatever is best for the horse, although manual is obviously much more physically taxing for the dentist.

When I first started working for Lisa, she had about 16 horses. Now she has probably the biggest privately owned yard that I visit, and I also go to several former trekking centre horses in their retirement homes. It’s a busy time when we come here; we do 25 one day and 20 the next.

Start them early

Lisa and I like to start with the young horses when they are yearlings. It is really beneficial. If they are checked from an early age, you never have any problems with them standing quietly to be treated.

And if you start early, you spot problems early. For example, Colorado, who is the youngest of the home-breds, will at some stage need his wolf teeth dealing with. I like to take out wolf teeth when a horse is three or four years old, before it becomes a more difficult procedure and before they start interfering with a horse’s work.

Check the small print

It is hugely important that owners should have their horses teeth cared for professionally. I think perhaps some people don’t realise that more and more equine insurance policies insist on it. Read the small print!

When I first started in this business people rarely used to think about getting their horse’s teeth checked. But I do think there is much more awareness nowadays, and that is a great thing for horse welfare. It is so important to their general health.

* Mat has his own website,, and can also be found on Facebook and Instagram.