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…

MAT CARTER

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, Midlandshorsedentist.com, 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.

The Montana Diaries

THE MONTANA DIARIES
Part One – by Lisa Gregory

Of all the blogs I have written over the last couple of years one of the most popular has been my insight into how I trained our lovely young Andalusian mare Nymeria.

I have trained many horses over the years – I hate the expression ‘breaking’, I like to call it ‘training’ –  but Nymeria proved quite challenging and I had to think out of the box, adapt and try new ideas.

My methods worked beautifully and Nymeria is doing fantastically well in her ridden work. I am riding her out on Cannock Chase regularly and it won’t be too long before she is ready for experienced clients.

The interest sparked by Nymeria’s story gave me the idea of taking you all along with me on my next training journey.

As you all know, we have some beautiful young horses here sired by my Dutch Warmblood stallion Zidane. Three of them – Dakota, Oregon and Arizona – are already regularly ridden by clients and Indiana is not far away with her training progressing very well. She is proving both calm and confident out on the Chase.

The next in line for training is the gorgeous Montana. I am just starting the training process and I will be sharing the experience with you step by step in a regular blog I am calling The Montana Diaries. I hope you will find it interesting.

Montana is also by Zidane and her mother is our super registered Welsh Section D mare Larosa – known to us all as Lola. This pretty bay mare is hugely popular for her willing nature and speedy paces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her foal was born on May 12th, 2015, so is four this spring and currently stands at 15.2 hands but I am sure she has a lot of growing still to do.

The tri-coloured Montana has been a good girl since the night I delivered her. She has never been the slightest trouble and I am very much hoping that happy nature will indicate how she is going to be during training. Of course, all our babies are very well handled from the day of their birth and that proves invaluable.

She comes in and out from the field regularly wearing a head collar so on Day One of training it is time to get her used to wearing a bridle.

I always give a little bit of feed to encourage taking the bit and Montana is no trouble at all as I gently put the bridle over her ears and do up the buckles. She looks as if she does this every day!

cannock chase trekking centre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She is soon yawning and playing with her tongue as she gets used to the feeling of the bit in her mouth. I always put the bit a little bit higher in the mouth than it will be when they are ridden so that I avoid the problem of them learning to get their tongue over it. If they learn that habit they just mess about.

I like to leave the bridle on for about half a hour to give a baby time to settle and Montana is very calm and quiet. She is just loving the attention and having me to herself!

I am looking for Montana to be completely quiet and relaxed and really happy with it and I am pleased that she has not been worried at all.

 

Cannock Chase Trekking Centre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I am going to quietly try her with her saddle. If she is upset I will remove it straight away. Sometimes I start with just a soft numnah but Montana is so relaxed I think she will be fine.

I lower it gently on to her back and she is rewarded with lots of kisses and cuddles before I gently do the girth up one hole at a time. This has to be done very kindly as she has never had anything under her belly before.

What a good girl Montana is! I move around the stable with her so she can understand how the saddle feels on her back and I spend time grooming and stroking to reassure her.

At first she doesn’t want to move because she can feel something on her back but she soon follows me. I will leave the saddle on for about half an hour.

Montana takes the whole process in her stride and is still chilled out and happy as I remove the saddle and bridle.

The next step will be to attach the reins loosely and then to venture into the arena. I am so proud of her and looking forward to our next training session, which I will tell you about in part two of The Montana Diaries.

A WEIGHTY SUBJECT

A WEIGHTY SUBJECT
By Lisa Gregory
One of the most sensitive and controversial subject being talked about in the equestrian world at the moment is rider weight and its possible damaging effect on horses.  Without doubt people have got bigger over the years and as the owner of a busy equestrian centre this weighty issue is something I have to address.

I have noticed more and more articles in the equestrian press about current research and I know many riding schools have already reduced their weight limits.

Here at the trekking centre our weight limit is currently 16st, and on the recommendation of our vet I have to think about reducing that. I must put the welfare and wellbeing of my horses first, but I love my customers and I don’t want to deter people from coming here to enjoy our wonderful centre.

What I would like to do is to highlight the extra riding enjoyment that can come from weight loss, even if it is just a few pounds. And I will do that by asking one of my long serving clients, Debbie Butcher, to tell her inspirational story.

Debbie has ridden here for 18 years and is the devoted fan of Brodie, a much-loved horse who has been with me for many years.

She decided to lose weight to make Brodie’s life easier and has been so successful that she is now a Slimming World consultant. I find it inspirational that she did this out of love for one of my horses.

Now she wants to help fellow riders do the same, and I would like people to start thinking about this process. She is passionate about her message and I am passionate about my horses, which is why we are collaborating.

BRODIE IS MY INSPIRATION
By Debbie Butcher

I have ridden my beloved friend Brodie for over 16 years and my weight has yo-yo’d up and down in all that time. I think I have done pretty much every diet that exists!

At my heaviest I was 13st 8lb, which was Christmas of 2017.  That was a wake-up call and I decided it had to stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the highlights of the year here at the trekking centre is our annual day out at the Sheriff of Lichfield’s Ride. It is a long and challenging day for the horses, with a route of over 20 miles, and I knew that I needed to be under 12st, as with any of the five rides that I had by then completed on Brodie.

My best boy is not getting any younger and I decided that I owed it to him to make changes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I lost some weight on my own and then I joined Slimming World because I saw it creeping up again and I knew I had to do this properly and for the long term.

By the 2018 Sheriff’s Ride I was under 11st 7lb and earned a hugely emotional reward when Brodie and I were awarded the Best Turned Out prize. It was the most fantastic day.

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Now I am 10st 4lb and at my ideal BMI. I so loved the ethos and healthy approach of Slimming World that last October I became a Slimming World Consultant.

Of course, vanity and health played a part in my decision to take control of my weight. But without reservation Brodie was, and still is, my inspiration. Because he is a big boy I knew he could always carry me, which is why I had never really got to grips with it until then.

Now, a year on, the difference riding him is amazing. He is flying every time we go out on a trek and it really feels as if he is saying “thanks for doing that”!

And a whole new world of trekking has opened up to me! Brodie will always be my number one, but I can now ride horses that I was too heavy for. I am even riding the gorgeous Capulate, whose limit is way below my previous weight.

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There is an unexpected benefit too. I am 56 and I have degenerative knee problems, which have improved massively as a result of my weight loss and improved fitness.

Everybody has to find their own motivation for losing weight. Brodie was mine, and I like to think other riders might be motivated by their feelings for a favourite horse.

I am somebody that understands this from a rider’s perspective. The worst thing you can do is “go on a diet”. This is a holistic approach, all about mind set, eating the right foods, and exercise. And of course, riding is a fantastic form of exercise.

I have become a Slimming World consultant because I believe in this absolutely. We are totally non-judgmental, there is no humiliation. Everything is discreet. This is not about dieting; it is all about changing our relationship with food.   If I can inspire other people I will be delighted. My Slimming World classes are Tuesdays (5.30pm) at St Joseph’s RC Primary School, Hednesford, and Wednesdays (5.30pm and 7.30pm) at Heath Hayes Constitutional Club, from Wednesday 5th June I will be moving my class to The Victoria Club, Norton Canes.  Have a look at my Facebook Page for further information.
Slimming World Heath Hayes

P.S from Lisa: Debbie is already proving an inspiration!  Many of our riders have joined her and their weight loss is incredible.  They say their favourite horses are flying under a lighter rider, and they have so much more choice of horses to ride as I am not now limited to who I can put them on.  I am so proud of them all!

Seasons on The Chase

SEASONS ON THE CHASE
by Lisa Gregory

Here at the trekking centre we are so lucky to have the glorious open countryside of Cannock Chase literally as our back garden.

Go through our gate and you will find yourself in thousands of acres of perfect riding country, with just the occasional road to cross.

The Chase is beautiful in all seasons, from the first touch of green in early spring to the blaze of purple heather on the moorlands in high summer and then the golds of the autumn forests.

 

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Riding on the Chase through the seasons is wonderful and at the moment we are looking forward to our spring and summer treks and lots of special activities (details on our events page).

We do of course become busier as the days get longer but some of those riders who enjoy visiting us during the summer will call a halt as the days shorten.

There are so many enjoyable reasons to keep on riding all year round. Spring is feeling as if it’s here for us now, but if you don’t normally ride when it’s chilly, start thinking now about joining us here when the autumn rolls round again.

Obviously it is still possible to come for a relaxing and low key outing but autumn and winter is a good time for people who want to learn more while on a trek and challenge themselves a little.

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Our groups in those seasons are often smaller, especially on week days, so myself and my staff can spend more one-on-one time with individual clients and help you while you are riding.

And because the ground is often soft with plenty of give for my horses’ legs we can sometimes have a much more energetic ride. The horses love that too because they are having less work and so are full of bounce and sparkle!

Even a frosty day when the ground is hard can be wonderful. The winter Chase looks stunning dressed in white and on a steady walk we can look out for our resident herds of fallow deer. They are easier to spot when the foliage dies down and are unafraid of the horses, so will often just quietly watch us go by.

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Clear days show the best of our panoramic views out to the Shropshire hills in the west and the Staffordshire Moorlands in the north.

 

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It is really only snow that puts paid to our winter riding when ground conditions become unsafe. But we have been known to get caught out by a snow shower while we are out on the Chase and that can be fun too!

 

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Returning to the centre is a real treat in winter. I always think that in summer our bistro has a ranch style atmosphere and we will all be enjoying that very soon. We will be making the most of the cowboy feeling with our Western themed party night on Saturday 25th May (tickets available at reception).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But in cold weather it is more like a ski lodge with the log fire blazing and a cup of hot chocolate to savour.

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And of course we have all our activities for both adults and children in the comfort of the indoor arena to enjoy. Full details of all our clinics and classes can be found on our events page

So if you are inclined to be a bit of a “fair weather rider” I hope I have convinced that the fun doesn’t stop when summer ends. Come and join us through all the seasons!

DOWN MEMORY LANE by John Brooks

DOWN MEMORY LANE

I can’t believe we are already into 2019 and in June it will be 24 years since I achieved my dream and opened my own trekking centre.

It has been a long and interesting journey, with many ups and downs along the road, and one person has been with me every step of the way.

Many of you know him, my longest standing client, and were delighted when he celebrated his 77th birthday last year with a trek on his beloved Brodie. So this week I thought it would be fascinating to hear from him about his journey alongside me at the trekking centre.  It’s over to you JOHN BROOKS.

DOWN MEMORY LANE
by John Brooks

Years ago, when I was first learning to ride, I used to enjoy a trek at a stables on Cannock Chase owned by a showjumper called Joe Gregory.

He had three daughters and the littlest one was about five at the time.  Her name was Lisa and she was bold and confident and pony mad. I could not have imagined then that all these years later we would still be friends – and really, she hasn’t changed a bit!

I started riding in 1974 at the age of 32. I was Mayor of Lichfield at the time and the then Sheriff asked me if I would join him on the city’s annual traditional beating the bounds ride.

I said I couldn’t ride at all but would learn in time for the event. In fact I only rode about eight times and then went on the Sheriff of Lichfield’s ride. I wouldn’t recommend that! It wasn’t the well organised day it is now – it was more like the Charge Of The Light Brigade!

I just about managed to stop on, only saved by the fact the horse I was on was very unfit and ran out of puff in every gallop.

But it didn’t put me off, far from it in fact. I was riding at Brian McMahon’s racing yard, where they also took rides out. I also rode at Middleton Equestrian Centre, and then I found Lisa’s dad’s place.

I rode at a lot of places and have kept a record of all the different horses I have ridden over the years. The total stands now at 247!

Then in June 1995 I saw a newspaper advert for a new stables opening at Teddesley. I went along in the very first week and was amazed to find that the owner was that same little girl I had known years before – now all grown up and putting me on a massive 18hh shire cross called Simon.

And I have ridden with Lisa ever since. Her original stables were here, on the site we are on today, but when Cannock Chase was closed due to forest fire risks in 1996 we moved over the road and kept on riding.

It was a tough time but Lisa battled through and stayed in business with 18 horses.

Then Lisa moved to Brocton for six years and the horse herd grew to 26. In 2001 she was able to buy her original site and the whole operation moved back here and continued to grow.

I have always ridden twice a week and still do. When I was working I would come for the day on a Sunday with some sandwiches and a can of lager and do both the morning and afternoon rides.

In 1996 I convinced Lisa to join me on the Sheriff’s Ride. There was just me and her back then – last year she took 25 riders! Altogether I have completed 30 and there were some very scary incidents in the old days. Health and safety hadn’t been invented then!

 

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John and Lisa one of many Sheriffs Rides together

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the years Lisa has become vitally important to the ride and I think she and the marshalls she provides are instrumental in keeping it going. Without her input it could have died.

I am so pleased to see what the Centre has become. It is a long way from my can of lager days and it is so nice after a ride to come back to the bistro and enjoy a good coffee and some lunch, especially in winter when the log fire is blazing away.

But it hasn’t been easy for Lisa. Sometimes it has been a real struggle but she has so much determination and stamina that it keeps on getting better and better here.

And over the years she has got better and better as a trainer. She always learns from experience and so the quality of horses continually improves, especially as she has trained many of them from foals. And she is excellent at not only training horses but pairing up riders with the right horse for them. That is a fantastic skill.

I have so many happy memories and have ridden some excellent horses and I have to say that Brodie is my all-time favourite. He has been a wonderful horse for me and I have done so much on him, including eight Sheriff’s rides.

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John & Brodie celebrate Johns 77th Birthday

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John congratulating Debbie Butcher and Brodie on their ‘Best Turned Out’ award

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I am getting old now and the horse I enjoy riding most is Lola. She is fast and forward going and she goes very easily and nicely. It is not hard work for an old man like me!

When I worked I found coming here was a stress buster for me. Riding horses is a very healthy and therapeutic hobby.

Now it keeps me fit and well. A few years ago I had a heart problem and the doctor was amazed at how quickly I recovered and got back to full fitness. My heart efficiency returned to normal and that happens only in one per cent of cases. I credit riding for that.

Riding at the trekking centre over the years has always been a real pleasure, but it has been more than that. It has been, and still is, a very important part of my life and I intend to keep going for as long as I enjoy it.

There is no better riding anywhere than Cannock Chase and if you really want to enjoy your riding there is no better place than this.

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