It might seem strange to introduce you to people the regular riders among you already know very well, but my hard-working staff here at the trekking centre are so dedicated to the well-being of both our horses and our clients that I think it is important to recognise their dedication.
So this week I am going to talk about a very familiar face – my yard manager Sonia Aston.
Sonia first came to work for me when she was just 17, fresh out of college and still very inexperienced. I was interviewing more qualified staff, but I was so impressed by how her determination to learn the job properly shone through that I decided to take a chance on her. It is a decision I have never regretted.
I will always give someone a go if I believe in them, and I also believe that if you find someone who is a nice person, you can make them good with horses. That was the case with Sonia.
She had to learn every aspect of the job, and she soon improved her skills and her riding. After two years she moved on, but I was delighted when she decided to return as a supervisor under Lucy Powell as yard manager.
When Lucy moved to Cumbria, Sonia took on the managerial role and she is responsible for the whole running of the yard, from the horses’ welfare and workload to the organisation of the treks.
She loves to be hands on, and I always say that if Lucy is my right-hand woman then Sonia is my left. We make a great team. Now over to Sonia…
I only rode a couple of times when I was small, but I really got the bug at age 12 when my cousin got a horse called Danny, and I used to go and ride him sometimes. Later, I managed to find bits of work experience.
After I finished college I applied everywhere I could for a job with horses. Lisa was the only person thoughtful enough to reply to me, and she offered me a job. When I was 18, I bought my own horse Millie.
A couple of years later I had the idea that the grass was greener, and I moved on to work as a showjumping groom, then at a kennels and cattery, and then for a vet. But I realised that my passion was really for working with horses – and especially for working with Lisa. I was constantly contacting her to ask if there was a vacancy.
And then there was – and I came back to work with Lucy, bringing Millie with me to become my guide horse. When Lucy moved away, I became yard manager, supervising the staff.
I was really upset when Lucy left; I wondered if I could cope without her, and I did find it difficult at first. But I stepped up and grew into the role. I have been back here for seven years now, and I love my job.
The yard has become busier and busier since I have been here. Winters sometimes used to be really quiet, but now we have three treks going out most days and the evening clinics too, and it is a change for the better. It is great to be busy.
Something I have really loved doing is helping Lisa with the training of the young horses. I had always wanted to do that, and Lisa’s help and support gave me the confidence to buy and bring on my own youngster, Elka (pictured left), who has replaced my lovely Millie, who I sadly lost a few years ago.
No job too small!
I love the variety of this job. I am doing something different every day. I am happy to go out on a trek or just as happy to muck out a stable. I even enjoy tack cleaning! I believe that you should always lead by example, and I will muck in with any job that needs doing on the yard.
My favourite job, though, is spending time grooming, tidying and clipping the horses. Sometimes we are so busy that we don’t get much time to spend with them. So whenever there is an opportunity to give a horse a pampering session, I love to do it as you get to learn all their different personalities.
Obviously I love all the horses, but, apart from my own, I have a particular soft spot for Buttons (pictured right) and Kitty.
However, if I were forced to name a favourite among Lisa’s horses it would have to be Saffy (main blog picture). I spent a long time bringing her on and training her to be my lead horse, and she helped me through a really tough period after I lost Millie. Saffy will always have a special place in my heart because of that. Elka is really doing well at learning to be a guide horse, but when I am on Saffy I can do every aspect of the job. She is fabulous.
Onwards and upwards!
I love the job as much now as when I started. With an eye on the future, the developments at CCTC are so exciting, especially the proposed 46 new stables, which will make working life somewhat easier.
That being said, I will never tire of riding out on Cannock Chase.