Introducing Your Guides – by Lisa Gregory

I am very lucky here at the trekking centre to have a dedicated yard team who really love all my horses and always have their best interests at heart.

My yard manager, Sonia Aston, heads the team, and working with her are Bethan Gould, Leah Dodd and Ellie Jones.

We have already heard from Sonia in an earlier blog, so now it is the turn of the others, who began their equestrian careers here on trekking centre apprenticeships. They are responsible for the care and welfare of all the horses.

Training young people, developing their skill sets and allowing their love of horses to blossom is a passion of mine. When you have a connection with horses, it is always with you, and I love to nurture that so it will be theirs for life.

These three all have relaxed and calm personalities, which are perfect for working with horses and communicating with clients. They work really well together and the dynamics between the four full-time yard staff are brilliant.

All three of my girls worked among my weekend volunteer team, and all of them caught my eye with their hard work and dedication.

First to join the team was Bethan. She came for a paddock ride when she was just a little girl, and, although she had her own ponies, she always came to ride here as well and had a special interest in my young or new horses.

Next to arrive was Leah – another who had graduated from my paddock rides when she was a little girl! Leah was 16 when she started an equine course at Rodbaston College. She did a work experience placement here and I then offered her a full-time apprenticeship under the assessment of Reaceheath College.

Ellie is the newest member of our team. I had already spotted her potential during her volunteer work on the yard. When a vacancy arrived, she was the obvious candidate for an apprenticeship.

Now let’s hear from the girls.

Bethan Gould

My mum has always had horses, and when I was a baby, she used to sit me on an old Welsh Section A pony she had.

I was four when I was taken to the trekking centre for the first time to have a paddock ride. Then I got my first pony, Mowgli. He is 20 now, and I still have him. I have had Solo, my Connemara, for seven years. Despite having my own ponies, I still liked coming to the trekking centre to ride. In fact, I had my first canter here, on Dolly, because Mowgli was a little bit sharp for a beginner to canter.

As I got older, I really used to enjoy it when Lisa had a new horse or was training a youngster. I was always asking her if I could ride them, and she would often let me be one of the first.

I started volunteering at the trekking centre when I was 15, and after I did my A Levels I started at university with the aim of becoming a veterinary nurse. But it didn’t really suit me, and I wasn’t enjoying it. When a vacancy came up at the trekking centre in November 2018, Lisa offered me an apprenticeship. My mum could see that I wasn’t happy at university, so it was decided that I could give it a chance.

I am so happy that I took that chance – I love it here. Since then, Lisa has given me a more senior role and extra responsibilities. At first, I found that a bit daunting, but I am really enjoying my new duties now and I love the variety. I am so happy spending time with the horses, grooming them and taking care of all their health checks.

I love them all, but I do have a few favourites. My favourites for my role as a trek guide are Oregon and Atlantis, and my number-one girl is Nymeria, our beautiful, young Andalusian mare.
I have spent a lot of time with her because Lisa allowed me to help in training her. I have a real love for Nymeria, and she gives it back to me.

We have a wonderful summer of events planned here at the trekking centre, and I am really looking forward to all of them, especially when we can repeat the Western riding display we learned last year. I loved that and can’t wait to do it again!

Leah Dodd

The first time I ever sat on a pony was here at the trekking centre, when I had a paddock ride on Lady. I rode here some more to pick up the basics and continued to go on treks, and then I had lessons at a riding school (this was before the trekking centre did lessons).

My dad had booked my paddock ride for me. He had shares in race horses, and I always used to go to the races with him.

When I was 14, I had my loan pony, Sparky, but I always kept on riding here as well. Sparky had been retired when he passed away last year and coming here really helped me at that time.

I became a weekend volunteer at the trekking centre, and then decided to go down the equine route when I left school, so I started at Rodbaston College. I was coming here once a week on work placement, and then Lisa offered me a full-time apprenticeship, which I was really delighted to accept.

I have nearly finished my apprenticeship now, and I am so happy that I will be staying on. I love my job – I really don’t know what else I would want to do.

The highlight of my time here so far has been helping Lisa to train Lola’s daughter Montana. Lisa allocated us all a project horse to work with to improve our skills and knowledge, and mine was Montana. She was only two when I first met her, and I have learned so much because of her.

I have a few other favourites too! I just love Princess because she is such a personality and full of character. At one stage, Lisa did consider selling her, but, luckily, she changed her mind. I have done lots of work with Princess, and she is a great little all-rounder. I did the Lichfield Sheriff’s Ride on her, and it was such a fun and memorable day.

I also love Pirate because he is a brilliant cob, so safe for a beginner and a fun ride for someone experienced. And Lola is my perfect guide horse.

I am really looking forward to helping Lisa when she starts training Colorado, the youngest of her stallion Zidane’s offspring.

And we have a special day to look forward to on June 20th, when we will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the start of the trekking centre. I can’t wait to find out all the exciting things we will be doing!

Ellie Jones

I have ridden since I was three. My grandmother has horses, and I always used to ride hers and I also had riding lessons for a while.

But the first time I came to the trekking centre was as a weekend volunteer when I was 13. I had emailed Lisa to ask if she would take me on. Lisa said I could come, and so I started working at weekends and I really enjoyed it. I began doing more and more in the holidays, and I also started helping to look after the small animals as well.

I started my A Levels in the sixth form at school, doing health and child development – nothing to do with horses at all! And then a full-time vacancy came up on the yard. Lisa asked me if I would be interested in an apprenticeship. My mum and dad approved, and the more I thought about it the more it made sense, so I jumped at the chance to join the team. Of course, I knew them all already, so that made life much easier.

I am so pleased I made that decision. I am learning so much and I am loving being with all the horses. My clear favourite is Autumn – I love everything about her.

The summer events look so exciting. I am looking forward to getting a chance to take part in the Western riding display team. I filled in a couple of times for missing people during rehearsals last year, and I would love to do it for real.

But I think the highlight for me will be the Lichfield Sheriff’s Ride in September. I have heard so much about it and I will be doing it for the first time this year.

Pony Fun – by Lisa Gregory

I can’t believe that we are already into the second month of 2020 and we are about to start our special programme of activities for our young riders.

We have a popular programme of pony fun for every school holiday and, as February brings half term, of course, we will kick off next week.

Pony Activity Sessions

Our Pony Activity Sessions are fun and informative;they are for four-year-olds upwards. The two-hour session includes a riding lesson, grooming, helping to tack up, and lots of pony games. It also includes a drink and a small snack. I think these ‘My Little Pony’ mornings are perfect for introducing the joy of riding and pony care to children who do not yet have riding lessons, but we also find that our young pupils who are already learning to ride enjoy them just as much.

It is a chance to really get close to your pony and begin to learn handling skills in a supervised and controlled environment. And, of course, it’s lots of fun too!

Our first pony activity session is on Wednesday, February 19th, from 10am to 12 noon and the cost is £45. Don’t worry if you can’t do this first one, as we have lots of other dates throughout the year, which are Wednesday, April 15th; Wednesday, July 22nd; Wednesday, August 5th; Wednesday, August 19th; Wednesday, October 28th; and, finally, Wednesday, December 30th, for a fun-filled festive morning.

We have a very special themed session planned for October 28th! Dress up in your Halloween costumes and enjoy pony apple bobbing and lots more spooky pony games. The morning includes a riding session.

Magical Unicorns Experience

Lots of children love the sparkly world of unicorns, so we are also offering a magical unicorn experience on the last Sunday of every month.

Aimed at children from the age of four upwards, this 45-minute session starts at 2pm and costs £40, which includes a special unicorn hot chocolate in our Ranch Bistro.

This is a fun-filled experience that children will love. They can dress up the ponies with sparkly accessories, paint their hooves with glitter and then ride their ‘unicorns’. This activity can also be booked for parties.

Children’s Riding Courses

And, of course, throughout the year we will be running our weekend children’s courses. Each course lasts for six weeks at a total cost of £150 and each lesson last for 30 minutes.

Our highly experienced instructors guide our youngsters from our Intro To Riding course, through Riding Improvement, on to Intermediate and, ultimately, our Advanced level. Again, we accept children from the age of four upwards.

The timings for these courses are as follows:
Saturdays – Children’s Riding Improvement, 9.30am; Children’s Intro To Riding, 10.15am; Children’s Intermediate, 11am; and Children’s Advanced, 11.45am.
Sundays – Children’s Intro To Riding, 9.30am.

Private lessons can also be booked.

Paddock Rides

On Sundays, we also have paddock rides for children aged four upwards. These are available at 10.15am and 11am, and each lasts for 30 minutes. They are perfect for giving children their first experience of sitting on a pony. The cost is £20.

Daily Treks

Of course, alongside all our special children’s activities, we mustn’t forget our daily 1- and 2-hour treks. Our 1-hour trek, costing £40 per person, is perfect for younger riders (from seven years upwards), and is walk and trot only. Older children (those ten years old and above) are also welcome on our 2-hour mixed ability trek, and those children with more riding experience may be able to join our 2-hour experienced trek. Both 2-hour treks are £60 per person.

25th Anniversary Celebration

This is a very special year for the trekking centre. We celebrate our 25th anniversary on Saturday, 20th June, and we are planning a full day of celebrations that promise to be lots of fun for children, and for mums and dads too! So keep watching our website and Facebook page for further details.

And please don’t hesitate to contact the centre directly if you have questions or need further information. A full list of our activities can be found on the website.

Introducing Sonia – by Lisa Gregory

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…

Sonia Aston

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.

Special favourites

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.

Introducing Lucy – by Lisa Gregory

As I introduce you all to the exceptional bunch of people who keep the trekking centre firing on all cylinders, we arrive at someone who is very well known to you all.

That person is Lucy Powell, my versatile right-hand woman who can literally turn her hand to any job at the centre. She may have greeted you at reception, taught you a lesson in the arena, or even made you a delicious coffee in the bistro!

Sometimes people come into your life that you instinctively know are going to be with you, step by step, throughout the whole journey. Lucy is one of those people. We met within a week of me opening the trekking centre, and she came to ride for her 11th birthday treat. She reminded me of myself at that age, quite shy but pony mad!

Her parents asked me if she could start coming to help out, and she has been with me ever since – through three yard moves, from working out of pig sties to the foot and mouth crisis; and from doing everything ourselves because we had no staff to our new era of the bistro and the arena.

Lucy has always shared my vision and my dream and my love of horses. She shares my ethos.

Having Lucy here coaching is fabulous; her style complements that of our other instructor, Karen Hudson. They are my teaching dream team. Each of the two of them approaches their lessons from a different perspective. Karen is a classically trained BHS coach, while Lucy studied breeding and horse psychology. But they feed off each other and their aim is the same: happy clients and happy horses.

Lucy started off as my pony-mad little assistant, helping out on the paddock rides; then she became a trek leader, my yard manager, a receptionist, a barista, a coach and now she even does the accounts. She can jump into any role – she is essential.

Now let’s hear from Lucy…

Lucy Powell

I started riding when I was three and was having lessons, mainly at Ingestre. But as I got older I felt I was getting a bit stale, and then my mum spotted that the trekking centre was opening.

She booked me an 11th birthday trek with my friends. I met Lisa and I was soon coming to help out. At first, I helped out on the paddock rides – I was known as the pony girl. My favourite was Banner, Lisa’s old competition pony.

Working with Lisa really brought my riding on because my confidence grew so much. At school I was quite shy, but at the trekking centre I found my voice; it brought me out of myself.

I went away to boarding school, but I insisted on coming home every weekend to work here, and when I went off to university I spent all my holidays here.

My degree was in equine sports science and equestrian psychology, and after university I lived in Nottingham. I worked as a groom for the army, taught at a riding school, trained horses and ran my own horse transport company, but I never lost touch with the centre.

While I was in Nottingham I bred my mare Eclipse. Her mum was Sophie, a mare of Lisa’s who was going to be out of work for a while (and who is also the mum of Atlantis), and her dad was a thoroughbred. I phoned Lisa as soon as she was born at 3am, and she and Georgia came to visit next day. I broke in Eclipse myself, and she was very good, but when I did have an issue with her, I turned to Lisa for advice. Now, of course, Eclipse lives here at the trekking centre.

Just as I was wrapping up my transport business, Lisa needed someone full time and I jumped at the chance. It was the best job I had ever had and I commuted from Nottingham for a long time before moving back here when I met my future husband Jamie, and he found a job locally.

I became yard manager, with Sonia as my right-hand woman, and that continued until 2015 when Jamie’s job moved to Cumbria. When we left, the building here had just started; when we came back two years later, everything was different!

Of course, as soon as we returned from Cumbria I was back at the centre! I started doing the accounts (which my dad had been doing for several years), then a little bit of teaching and I even learned to be a barista, as well as running reception.

I particularly love my teaching here. Because I have been here for so long, I have known some of these horses since they were born. I know them so well that I can teach my pupils how to ride and get the best out of that individual horse.

A cowgirl at heart

Western riding is a great love of mine and passing on that enthusiasm in my lessons is really rewarding. In the summer, we hosted two ranch-style evening parties, and I choreographed the musical rides performed my myself, Lisa and the staff. I devised the routine and chose the music, and I absolutely loved it. I was so proud of the girls. When we started practising, most of them had never ridden Western. By the time of the performance, they looked as if they had been born to it. We ended each performance with a fast and furious barrel racing competition with the staff in two teams. It was so popular that I am now teaching barrel racing clinics!

It is really interesting that I have noticed that the horses enjoy the Western clinics (including barrel racing) as well. For example, Tyri came from a dressage background but he just loves Western. He finds it sheer fun.

I love it here because every day is different. When I wake up in the morning, I never know which hat I am going to be wearing.

I can’t stay away – I am the Cannock Chase Trekking Centre boomerang!

Introducing Karen – by Lisa Gregory

In a couple of my recent blogs, I have been introducing you to key members of my team here at the trekking centre.

This time, it is the turn of Karen Hudson, and she really needs no introduction as many of you already know her – she is our British Horse Society (BHS) instructor and teaches lessons here several days a week. However, she has a key role at the centre, and I thought you would all be interested in learning how she came to be working here and to hear from Karen herself.

When I started the trekking centre nearly 25 years ago – it is our silver anniversary in 2020 – I had no intention of offering lessons. There are some very good riding schools around – notably Ingestre – and I did not want to compete with them. They are excellent at what they do, and we have always been excellent at what we do – offering clients the chance to enjoy our gorgeous Cannock Chase from the back of a good horse.

But, as time went on, more and more of my regular clients started asking about the possibility of having lessons on their favourite horses. So when I began the redevelopment here, it was the perfect opportunity to build an indoor arena and fulfil those clients’ wishes. Of course, I had to find an instructor, and as soon as I met Karen I knew we would be a good fit for each other.

Now we have everyone from children to adults, beginners to advanced, enjoying tuition here. Karen and I love seeing the riders develop, and the horses are benefitting too by turning their hands to every discipline and becoming much more well rounded. Now it’s over to Karen…

Karen Hudson

I started riding when I was just four at a trekking centre owned by the mum of equine dentist Mat Carter, who cares for all of Lisa’s horses.

A little Shetland called Sooty gave me a lifelong passion for riding, although I did not start out in an equestrian career. I was in sales and marketing – including selling equine products – for a long time. And after I had my daughter, I was starting to get bored.

At the time, I had a thoroughbred called Pimm. She had a few injuries, and I couldn’t ride her, so I started riding at Ingestre, where they suggested I take a few exams. I really enjoyed that and I did my Stages One, Two and Three, and then my coaching exams. I also trained at Berriewood Equestrian Centre in Shropshire. I started doing a little bit of coaching at Ingestre, and it was there that I found my passion for teaching. I worked at a number of riding schools and, at that time, it was all about developing myself as a coach.

It may sound very weird, but I always knew I would end up working with Lisa here at the trekking centre. Someone told me that an arena was being built, and I came and handed in my CV. Six months later, I saw the job advertised on the BHS website and I thought, “That job is mine!” I applied, and the rest is history.

It was a challenge at first because the horses were used to being ridden out on the Chase – they found being asked to work in an indoor arena a bit baffling. Working on their own was strange to them when they were used to trekking with their herd mates.

And I had to get used to Lisa’s way – no artificial aids, no crops, no whips, no spurs and no lunge lessons. But I have absolutely loved it!

Our patience has paid off as the horses soon settled in to school work and they are never, ever stale or bored, because they still have the fun of trekking out on the Chase.

I realised a long time ago that this is a leisure industry and you have to send your clients away happy. You cannot boss them around. I have learned that a coach must be interactive; you must make people welcome. A coach must empower clients rather than put them down. I hope I succeed in that in every lesson. When you teach children, you are often making the difference whether they go on to ride all their lives – or give up. It is a serious responsibility.

I love working with groups, so I enjoy our clinics, such as cross country and dressage in the summer, and polework in the winter. I enjoyed learning to ride Western in the summer, so I was able to take part in the Western riding displays at the ranch party nights, even including some exciting barrel racing!

Lisa and the girls on the yard provide me with wonderful support. She and I discuss how we want to develop the school further, and I love to get feedback from her.

I adore the horses here – I don’t think they have a clue how much I love them! My current aim is to get all the coloured cobs working nicely in the school because they are so safe.

My own horse is a coloured cob called Blaze and he is schooled to novice level in dressage. Any horse can do dressage – it is just a matter of schooling.

Coaching is my passion. Seeing my pupils leaving the arena with smiles on their faces is everything. I want them to go home buzzing.

My Review of 2019 – by Lisa Gregory

At this time of the year I enjoy looking back at the past 12 months, and I am always full of anticipation for the 12 months ahead. But this time there is extra excitement because the new decade brings with it a very special event.

The year 2020 is our silver anniversary here at the trekking centre – it’s 25 years since I first opened my gates to clients. The anniversary falls on June 20th – which is also my daughter Georgia’s 18th birthday – so, as you can imagine, I am planning a major celebration. At the moment I am thinking in terms of a big open day to showcase all that we do here. I will keep you all up to date with my plans.

2019 highlights

But back to 2019. It was a relief to me to be back to normal after the testing conditions of the previous year. As you all know, 2018 was a year of blizzards and drought, so I was delighted to return to typical British weather, which meant we could stay open and continue to enjoy our trekking.

We have enjoyed some fabulous days. I reinstated our popular pub rides and they have proved a great favourite, and we were lucky enough to have fabulous weather each time we did an evening Indian ride. Those summer evenings were very special, and I think in 2020 we will do a mixture of Indian nights, pub rides and supper at the Ranch Bistro.

Our Longdon two-day trail ride took place in the hottest weather of the summer, but our horses were fine as we took them on a route through shady woods on the way to our lovely accommodation, and I am sure this will be a popular feature again. I think we will also make this available as a private booking if a few friends want to get together.

I am looking at resuming our Wales trips, and my partner Mark and I are looking at possible venues where we can enjoy the best of the beach and mountain scenery.

Of course, the annual Sheriff Of Lichfield traditional beating the bounds ride in September is a highlight of our year, and this time we took our biggest ever number of horses. It was a great success and our two prep days involved lots of fun, laughter, hard work and cake!

Our treks and lessons are always busy and our instructors, Karen and Lucy, have been working hard, especially as we have introduced some very popular clinics. Now we have saddleless riding, polework, cross country, Western riding and barrel racing.

We have had three fantastic evening events in our bistro: two Wild West themed ranch party nights in the summer, with food, drinks and a live band; and our first ever Christmas party. I think everyone at the ranch parties really enjoyed our Western riding display in the arena. I was so proud of my girls and all the horses. They put on a fabulous show and the response from the audience prompted us to introduce barrel racing as an activity.

We enjoyed our first Game Of Thrones themed ride and that is another idea we think we will develop. We are looking forward to doing it bigger and better in 2020.

Hellos and goodbyes

On the staff front, we said a sad goodbye to trek leader Mell Newton, and wish her well in her new job. And we welcomed one of our weekend staff, Ellie Jones, to our full-time team on a new apprenticeship.

We also said farewell to three of our horses. Tia, Lady and Georgie all went off to five-star private homes, while we said hello to our beautiful Friesian boy Oberon.

For me 2019 was the year of the babies. I knew I would be busy with four to train: Nymeria, the sister of my PRE Andalusian trek leader Pele; and three home breds, Arizona, Indiana and Montana. It was hugely rewarding, as all four have exceeded my expectations. Nymeria was the most challenging, but it’s been a great learning curve. She, Arizona and Indiana are all regularly out on on the treks with clients, and Montana, the youngest of the four, has just started to join them.

The last of my home breds is Colorado, and I may do a little work and lightly back him in 2020. I usually wait until they are four, and he is three, but he is a big, bold and confident boy, and I think it will do him good.

In the bistro we have a new chef, and we are receiving inquiries about weddings, christenings and kids’ proms. And the success of the party nights we have held so far has made us start thinking about other evening events.

Here’s to the next 12 months!

We go into 2020 looking forward to another 12 months of great riding, lots of fun and a warm welcome to all of our guests.

But the highlight is going to be our anniversary. As you all saw this summer, we know how to throw a party here and this will be a special one!

Exciting times ahead!

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.

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.

Introducing Karl – by Lisa Gregory

A dedicated and hard-working team is absolutely essential to keep an equestrian business the size of Cannock Chase Trekking Centre working efficiently. With 46 horses to care for, clients to keep safe and happy, and a popular bistro to run we have a busy life! And I am lucky enough to have first-class workers, from my yard staff right through to my baristas, to keep the operation rolling along smoothly.

Behind the scenes there is also a highly professional support team, who are crucial to our work. They are our vets, our equine dentist and our farrier, who keep all our much loved horses happy and healthy.

Our farrier is Karl Jones, and he is a weekly visitor to the yard, where there are always customers awaiting his attention. Karl has been my farrier for many years, and his skill and patience are highly valued here.  My horses meet some rough terrain out on Cannock Chase and it is crucial that their feet are kept in tip-top condition.

Each horse has its own farrier record, and Karl has an individual programme of attention for each one, depending on wear and tear. When our foals are born, Karl starts going in with them early on, so they get to know him. And horses that I buy soon settle to his patient handling. He doesn’t have a single problem with any of our horses and he is always quick to spot if a potential problem is developing.

Karl is a massive part of our team and we have such a good relationship with him.

I thought you might like to hear from Karl, so now I am handing over to him…

Karl Jones

I qualified as a farrier in 1998 after a four-year apprenticeship with a firm that had a history of ten generations in the business. I first became interested in farriery because I had two cousins who were farriers, and I used to help them out while I was still at school. That got me thinking about farriery as a career, and I have never regretted taking this route. I love it – it doesn’t really feel like a job to me.

I started working for Lisa about a year after I qualified. She was looking for a farrier and her vet recommended me. When I started, she had about 26 horses, and, of course, the yard has grown and grown since then.

It is the biggest privately owned yard that I visit, and I am here every week. Lisa always asks me if I can see any lameness problems developing with any of the horses, as I can sometimes spot signs from the wear of their shoes before it becomes physically apparent in their work. It is a responsibility I take very seriously as I can help Lisa deal with issues promptly.

And because I know all of these horses individually, and have known some of them for a very long time, I can see if  things are not quite right. For example, I started handling Gabriel when he was six months old. Now he is 15, so I know him very well indeed as I have been shoeing him all these years. I would notice immediately if he began to suffer a problem.

I find that most horses on other yards tend to work on a surface these days. They do school work most of the time. But Lisa’s horses do the majority of their work on a whole range of terrains so I have adapted what I do to deal with that. It is not like shoeing dressage horses! I aim to be looking after joints, tendons and ligaments by correct shoeing. Foot balance is crucial to their overall soundness. A horse that is working on uneven ground is always under extra pressure. With the Chase being so stoney, over the years I have learnt to leave a good amount of sole, only taking away sole that is needed to allow plenty of protection to the ground surface of the hoof.

I am always on call for the trekking centre. If a horse loses a shoe, I try to get there as soon as possible because there may be clients booked for that horse.

One of my highlights is that I very much enjoy starting with the babies. I like to start them patiently and quietly. It sets them up for life if they begin their education with no stress.

We had a little challenge to think about when the beautiful Nymeria arrived. She was an adult horse but very little handled – so potentially a problem. But she loves her food, so she will stand nicely for shoeing as long as Lisa feeds her some lunch!

I am delighted that my 16-year-old son Harrison has become really interested and likes to come with me in the school holidays. He has really taken to it and it is exciting to think that he is following in my footsteps.

Oberon Foppe – by Lisa Gregory

Welcome to my new regular blog feature. Every week there is a horse that shines through for me and my staff, and we will be sharing their stories with you.

It might be a horse that is going brilliantly in the school, or one that has given a beginner rider their first canter out on the Chase. We will choose one every week for you.

Oberon Foppe – our very own Black Beauty

And because I am the boss, I get first pick! My choice is our gorgeous new boy Oberon Foppe, a pure bred Friesian whose origins are in Holland and who has only been in this country for a year. After hearing a little of his history his is a real Black Beauty story that I want to share with you.

His name was simply Foppe, but as you all know, I like a great sounding name and so I double barrelled it by adding Oberon.

Oberon, FriesianI have always firmly believed that there are some horses that are destined to be mine and I think he is one of them. He has found the place where he needs to be.

For a little while, I have been on the lookout for a new member of my team. I had seen a few, but had not really felt the connection with them that I really need to experience before I buy and had come home disappointed.

However, I had noticed that a friend of ours who sells quality sports horses on behalf of their owners had on her yard a beautiful Friesian gelding.

I had been looking for a big weight carrier type. Now I was considering something completely different!

Something just drew me to him, and it was quite an impulsive buy. I was negotiating before I actually saw him, but my friend assured me his paces and jumping were fabulous and I trust her judgement.

Even more beautiful than his photos

I went over to her yard with my horse box and as soon as I saw Oberon in his stable I was shocked. He was even more beautiful than his photos! He turned and looked straight at me and he reminded me instantly of my stallion Zidane, the horse with whom I have the closest relationship.

Oberon came straight home with me and I felt him totally relax as soon as he arrived. Within ten minutes, I was riding him in the arena. I was blown away by his sensational paces! At some stage in his past, he has received a really good education.

Although I had been told he had done very little hacking, I took him out on Cannock Chase the next day at the height of Storm Hannah. He led a ride of 20 through the gales and rain, and loved every minute of it! He was so excited but his behaviour was perfect.

Within a couple of days, the lady who had owned Oberon contacted me and I asked her for more information about him. She came to visit and was delighted to see him looking relaxed and happy.

She told me she had bought him from someone in Worcester who had bought him from a seller in London. The Worcester owners told her that when they went to view him he was on a yard where meat products were hung around his stable.

The new buyers then acquired him as a driving horse, but when he was put in harness he went crazy and turned the carriage over, injuring himself and the driver.

So, he has had a couple of bad experiences and when she brought him home she found him to be very nervous. He didn’t settle well and she struggled to handle him on the ground, with him breaking free a few times. Eventually, she made the sad decision that she needed to find the right home for him.

Oberon – totally relaxed in his new environment

He came here, and from my point of view I see a horse that is totally relaxed in his new environment. He has never tried to pull or barge, he loves to hack out and his work in the school is fabulous. I think he has found his happy place.

He has fantastic breeding and my next aim is to track down his past. How did he end up on that yard in London? He has many behavioural traits like my stallion Zidane, and I am convinced that he was an entire for quite some time.

Oberon is loving his new life and I really enjoyed turning him out with the herd. He was so excited to run free in our fields and he really showed off his spectacular moves! Our photographer Tim was able to capture some fabulous shots.

Unfortunately, whilst enjoying himself out in the fields with the rest of the herd, he managed to injure one of his hocks, so he has been off work recuperating for a while, following treatment by the team at Pool House Equine Clinic. As of next week, we will be bringing him back into work gently, so you should see him out on the treks again very soon.