Eight wonders of 2016

This has been one of the most exciting years we have ever had here at Cannock Chase Trekking Centre.
I think every month has brought us something thrilling, from the start of the redevelopment to putting the gorgeous Tia back in foal to my Dutch warmblood stallion Zidane; from starting our lovely Longdon weekend trail rides to a hugely successful Sheriff’s Ride.
I am looking forward so much to what 2017 brings us, but here is my look back – Eight Wonders Of 2016.

Number One: This has to be the start of our new build back in January. I had been waiting for so many years to redevelop the centre, and here were the diggers to break ground and get under way with our fabulous lodge building and our covered arena.

Unfortunately the weather was wet and it was the start of weeks of living and working surrounded by mud, but it was a small price to pay. It was very strange working with machinery and builders all around us and sending treks out from the back field, but staff, clients and horses all took it in their stride. W
e were all so excited – we were going from “The Pits” to “The Ritz”.
Number Two: The completion of the indoor riding arena. It was fantastic to have such great facilities, with mirrors, flood lights and a state of the art Martin Collins floor. Now we could start riding lessons, bring on board our coach Karen Hudson, and ride in any weathers and at any time of day or night. The world is our oyster!
 
Number Three: Starting pony clubs for young riders. We now offer club activities in three age groups ranging from four to sixteen. There’s lots of games, fun, riding and learning about ponies. Now I am looking at one for adults too! And I have loads more plans, including Western riding, horse ball and mounted archery.
 
Number Four:

Fitness classes. I am a strong believer in the importance of physical fitness to aid riding, and as the year came to a close we were able to hold our first mounted fitness classes. Equifit and Equilates – which combines elements of yoga, pilates and Tai-Chi – will continue next year. Book in to get fit and toned for the summer!
Number Five: I have always used bareback riding as a way of keeping fit and strengthening my core. It is also a wonderful way of feeling at one with your horse. We have now started Intro to Bareback Riding sessions in the arena and I think they will prove very popular.
Number Six: Our beautiful bistro. The Lodge is everything I dreamed of and more. We are offering Barista coffee, amazing hot chocolate and delicious home cooked food. We are really excited about the future and what we can do here. Think of early morning breakfast rides, barbeque rides, parties and corporate events. We seem to be evolving in a tex-mex ranch style and we want to make sure we carry on serving fantastic food and drinks.
 

Number Seven: Another exciting first for the Centre was when I became a qualified first responder. I have installed a medical room in the lodge and I can now carry a trauma kit. We will be holding first aid training courses from basic to advanced here at the Centre.

Number Eight: Over the years we have had lots of enquiries from people wanting to hold corporate events or birthday parties, so we now have the facilities to do that here in the new lodge. We have held our first ‘Trekworking’ event when our business visitors combined their meeting with lunch and a trek out on the Chase. It was such a success that early booking will be essential for the next one!

Another first to aid our skills!

Another ‘first’ to ‘aid’ our skills here at the trekking centre.  Yesterday I got my FPOS – First Person On The Scene – qualification. Now I feel confident I can deal with most scenarios after passing a fantastic first aid course that is the most advanced a student can take outside the emergency services.

And I didn’t even have to leave home to do it – as our amazing new visitors’ centre is the base for the course and the plan is there will be a first aid course every month staged here.

The FPOS – First Person On The Scene – courses are run by Duncan Parsonage and Mike Taylor, who have years of experience in the emergency services under their belts and now run Abacus Training.

Successful students gain an internationally recognised BTEQ qualification. There were eight students on the first course, including me and even a couple of bodyguards who provide close protection for celebrities. And I’m happy to report a 100 per cent pass rate.

It was so interesting and quite challenging and covered everything from cardiac arrests to fractures and major bleeds. The aim is that the first aider has enough knowledge and skill to keep an emergency situation under control until the paramedics arrive.  I really feel confident that I can now do that, especially as the visitors’ centre has an excellent medical room, first aid resources and we also carry a defibrillator.

​So, going forward me and my horse Chase could be responding to any medical incidents on Cannock Chase.  With my close access to the Chase I could be called out to help as a first line of treatment and I am a lot more comfortable in any scenario.

Abacus offer training from basic first aid right up to this qualification, which can be used as a stepping stone towards a job with the emergency services.  Duncan and Mike are so delighted with the success of the first course that they are now planning an equestrian version, aimed at people who work in the equine industry. The facilities we can offer here can provide all sorts of learning situations for the students.  Anyone interested in joining a future Abacus course can contact the Trekking Centre.

Stunning setting for a bite to eat!

Have you been to see us yet in our stunning new equestrian centre? And if not, why not? Come and see what everyone is talking about!

Our regular riders are enjoying state of the art facilities and ranch-style comfort and new clients are here every week to savour a taste of ‘Apres Horse’. We are also attracting lots of non-riding visitors who are calling in to take a look.

It’s now a few weeks since the visitors’ centre was opened and we are happily settled in. Our bistro is buzzing at weekends as our riders enjoy tasty food and drinks after an invigorating trek on the Chase, and there is a lovely cosy feel now that the log burner is blazing on chilly autumn days.

As you all know, I have been planning this for such a long time and it is everything I hoped it would be.

Sometimes equestrian centres can feel a little bit cold and offhand, but our treks now feel like friends going out for a ride on my horses and coming back to my place for a coffee.

And from a health and safety aspect, we are now in a much better place. The check-in area is well designed and efficient, riders can gather without feeling they are getting in the way and we have lovely bathroom and hand-washing facilities.

The horses are close and in full view but there is no danger of people accidentally straying among them.

Now we are busy planning lots of new activities. Our function room is already booked for an FPOS first-responder training course and is available for meetings, conferences and children’s birthday parties.

The indoor arena is open three days a week for lessons and children’s pony club. Quite a lot of clients are combining lessons with treks. And I’m thinking of organising a ‘pony club’ for adults too. That could be a lot of fun with a tasty supper in the lodge afterwards!

Another of my ideas is to trek very early on summer mornings. We can ride out over the Chase to spot the wildlife in the quiet and beauty of the dawn and then return for a well-earned breakfast.

Or how about an evening barbecue ride? That could be great for people who work full time. They could come straight to us and enjoy a ride before a lovely meal.

We have so much to look forward to as we head towards 2017. Come and enjoy it with us.

A Taste of Après-Horse

A Taste of Après-Horse at Cannock Chase Trekking Centre

When I  gave up modelling for a career with horses, I dreamed of establishing an equestrian centre that would bring visitors flocking to my beloved Cannock Chase, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Since establishing Cannock Chase Trekking Centre, we receive around 17,000 visitors per year, all enjoying the beauty of the Staffordshire countryside on horseback.

Now, 21 years later, I have taken my dream to the next level with the opening of a unique architect-designed cedar lodge offering a touch of ‘après horse’ for all visitors to the Centre.

The lodge, which includes a ranch-style bistro and coffee shop with seating for 70 and meeting / conference room facilities, is part of the first phase of a major redevelopment of the horse trekking centre.

It was always my vision to make horse riding accessible and enjoyable for all and to provide a unique experience, and now that ambition is coming true and it’s very exciting. This has been years in planning and I can hardly believe that I am there!

The visitor centre is absolutely stunning. I always had a clear picture of what I wanted it to look like, but the real thing exceeds that vision.  As far as I know there is nowhere like it in the country.  Maybe I’m biased but it really has the wow factor and this has been confirmed by the feedback from the many visitors already enjoying it.

It has a beautiful coffee shop area with floor-to-ceiling glass offering panoramic views out to the Chase. The lovely outdoor seating area mirrors those views and our visitors are able to see the horses coming and going on the treks. We have installed a log burner so it is all cosy on cold winter days.

I have incorporated into the design a conference area and that is already attracting a lot of interest from organisations looking to use it for sales conferences and corporate team building events.  We are also looking to offer a unique twist on fitness with exercise classes on horseback.

The ability to offer a variety of coffees sourced locally and provide a tasty and interesting menu means that visitors have a really pleasant experience.  And, of course, all our riders have been really looking forward to ending their treks with a hot coffee and a piece of delicious home-made cake!

A huge indoor arena has also been built to facilitate – for the first time since the trekking centre was established in 1995 – riding lessons for all ages and abilities and a BHS registered instructor is already at work and proving very popular.

Phase two of the development will include an American-style barn with stabling  for 46 horses complete with laundry facilities.

Of course, the core of the trekking centre will always be our rides across Cannock Chase, but this development means that we can offer a whole new experience to our visitors and enjoy a shared passion for horses.

Construction Project Weeks 7-12

Becoming a reality

The whole construction project has become reality now!  We’re coming ever nearer to the time when we will actually be riding in the indoor arena or sipping coffee and eating cake in the visitors’ centre.  The pace of construction really stepped up after week seven when we started to see the shape of the windows and doorways.

It was a milestone week when areas of the exterior block work were finished up to roof level and the builders moved inside. It wasn’t long before the roof trusses were delivered, soon followed by the steel and in the weeks that followed work was progressing nicely and the visitors’ centre grew and grew.

The last of the trusses have now been fitted and hopefully in the next week work will start on the roof itself.

The next exciting stage of the construction project will be when the windows go in and the external cedar wood panelling is fitted.

My interior designer friend has been to visit. Her vision for the building is the same as mine and we had a good look at things, like how the reception area will be designed and working out what is going to be in the kitchen.

I’m not going to tell you much about the interior yet – I will save that for later blogs – but I will say that I have chosen the log burner. I hope you are all going to be looking forward to the variety of food and drink on offer whatever the weather, hot chocolate in front of the fire after a cold winter trek on the Chase, or in the summer enjoy cooling off on our terrace

Meanwhile, over at the arena, work has been progressing rapidly! The gable end panelling has been completed and the side panels have gone on and are being painted to match the rest of the building. I am happy that I decided to go with a covered arena rather than an indoor, we have beautiful views and it is a shame to block it all out! Just imagine having a schooling session with views of Cannock Chase.

Things keep getting more exciting by the day, I am really looking forward to the next stages of the project!

New Equestrian Centre

Progress on our New Equestrian Centre – Weeks 4, 5 & 6

What a surprise I had when I returned home from a few days away to discover we now had the complete framework of an indoor arena, the first building that will be complete for our new equestrian centre!  I just can’t believe how quickly it went up – there was nothing there when I left.

Progress on the whole site has followed the same theme; the contractors are making steady and excellent progress with every day that passes.  I am sure all you riders notice a difference every time you visit.  Here’s how the new equestrian centre project has moved on during weeks four, five & six:

WEEK FOUR

The blockwork started on the visitors’ centre and quickly grew up to floor level. The sub base was laid and we could now clearly see how the layout will look when the building is complete. It also gave us a good impression of the surrounding outside area, which visitors will be able to enjoy too.  The septic tank was also installed and the team started laying the drainage around the visitors’ centre.

WEEK FIVE

This was the week when the magic happened! The crane arrived to lift the arena’s steel supports into place.

We were told it would fly up once the work started, and the builders were right about that! From start to finish the whole process took just three days and there it was, perfectly timed for my return home. It’s all ready for the cladding and the roof to go on in two weeks’ time.

There was more progress too on the visitors’ centre, with the concrete cast for the floor. And outside the car park area started to take shape with the ground levelled off.

WEEK SIX

No big dramas this week, just nice steady progress.

The crew finished all the drainage around the visitors’ centre and then continued with the block work so that the walls are continuing to grow. Then it was on to painting the steel framework in the arena, so the primer and a couple of protective coats went on.

We can’t wait to see what changes weeks seven and eight will bring.

I keep saying how delighted I am with the way our lovely horses take everything in their stride, but they have really been exceptional lately.  They were not worried in the slightest by the sight of the crane swinging the steel beams into place for the arena.  Some of them were, in fact, setting off for a ride while the work was at its busiest, and were totally chilled out about the whole thing.  And later we caught sight of a group of them peeping over the fence to have a look at it. Perhaps they were imagining themselves cantering around in there. They are just amazing – I’m so proud of them.

New Development – Weeks 2 & 3

We’re two more weeks into our new build now and progress so far has been amazing with all the ground works pretty much completed.  We can barely take our eyes off it because we can see changes every day.

Week 2 – 1st February 2016


Week two saw the massive excavations extended and the foundations completely dug out for the visitors’ centre, giving us the chance to see its lay-out for the first time.

The indoor arena – where our old mounting up paddock used to be – was dug out, the area levelled and the stone sub-base for the arena floor laid and rolled.

Week 3 – 8th February 2016


Week three brought another big step forward as the first of the concrete lorries came trundling down the drive.

The holes that will take the steel frame of the arena were dug out and the holding down bolts were cast in readiness for the structural steelwork to be lifted into place.

Now we can clearly see the floor plan and picture  how big it will be when it is finished. I’ve been pacing it out on an imaginary horse! And the girls and I can already visualise ourselves riding in there.

The visitors’ centre lay-out is now quite clear – you can probably all see it as you drive down to the car park – with the concrete foundations all finished. Now it’s all ready now for the brickwork to start and that will happen this week.

That will be great to see because then it will really be taking shape and I think the rate of progress will speed up as the walls go up. The next big moment to look forward to is the arrival of the steel.

It does feel as if we are living in the middle of a building site but it’s all going to be worth it in the end.

From the trekking centre’s point of view, everything seems to be going great. Riding out from the field behind the car park hasn’t caused any problems and the horses are taking everything in their stride.

Having heavy machinery rumbling round their home doesn’t worry them at all.  And although we’re a little short of room on the yard on busy days, they are more than happy to share stable space and double up with their pals.

 

Starting the Build. Off to a Flying Start!

The Trekking Centre’s New Development

WEEK 1 – 25th January 2016


It’s happening at last – our fabulous new trekking centre is underway and I can’t believe the progress we’ve made in just a few days.

After all the planning and dreaming – and all the delays and red tape – the contractors have arrived and we have finally begun work on our long-awaited development project.

It has been a long time coming and it seems quite surreal that we are actually breaking ground. Scary – but very exciting too!

We have a hard working crew of contractors on site and the transformation every day is quite amazing. I really can’t take my eyes away from it.

After just a couple of days the contractors’ compound was up, the area for the new stables dug out and the footprint of the visitors’ centre established. All you riders will see huge changes every time you visit.

I had hoped that we would have started the work last summer, but a few little snags and hitches developed along the way that needed sorting out. But that’s all dealt with now and so finally the dream is taking shape.

I began thinking about all this more than six years ago. It was then that I started considering that at some stage I would like to take the trekking centre into a new era.

That dream became a necessity when I decided that our facilities were becoming tired. It was a case of scaling down the operation – or going all-out for a development that would enable us to offer our clients the very best.

And we will also be providing top-class facilities for the staff and for our horses too. They work hard and deserve to be spoiled a little.

The new indoor arena will be the first to be finished and should be ready for use in April. The visitors’ centre, which will incorporate a cafe, shop, lecture area, showers and toilets, should hopefully be complete by late June or early July.  The completion of both of those will enable us to offer our clients so many options with activities and I will keep you updated with all our ideas along the way. I think you will all enjoy the plans I am making!

Of course, all this construction work will cause some disruption to our operations but we have devised a plan to keep us up and running without affecting our riders’ enjoyment.

The office where you all check in for rides has moved onto the car park. So visitors will park there as normal, then check in as usual, but we will mount up and ride out from the rear field. We may, in fact, put a corral in there, but it might not prove necessary, so we will wait and see.

Starting a major construction project in the winter may seem like odd timing, but it is ideal for us. This is our quiet time of the year when our rides are much smaller, so disruption will be kept to a minimum. When our busy period starts again, the build will be well advanced.

And by the summer, all our new fun can start. Enjoy coffee and cake after a trek, join us for an evening barbeque ride, or get up early and come with us to spot wildlife on the Chase before a delicious breakfast!

Then there will be workshops, lectures, Western riding, maybe even Pony Club games for adults!

It’s all so exciting and I know all you are going to love our new-look centre.

Larosa’s Pregnancy – Welsh section D Mare First Foal

She’s a real beauty, I’m sure you all agree.

Of course I’m talking about our new arrival, little Montana, whose lovely looks and cheeky personality have already earned her a massive fan club.

I kept you all in touch with events on the night of her birth via our Facebook page and it attracted such huge interest that I thought I would share with you all my foal diary.

I always like to keep a diary when one of my mares is in foal so I can keep a record of all the changes as the weeks go by. Then I can be there to make sure that both mum and baby are absolutely safe throughout the labour and birth.

Larosa – Lola to all her friends – is our lovely bay Welsh Section D mare. She was in foal to our coloured stallion Zidane, a first pregnancy for her, and the baby was due on May 20th.

She was scanned in foal in July 2014 and continued to work up to December when she started her maternity leave. On March 10th she moved into her foaling box and we began camera monitoring on April 27th.

Here’s how the last few weeks progressed:

April 28th: For a maiden mare Lola has a huge baby bump and has already changed shape behind.

April 29th: Lola is quiet in the field during the day but has started to become restless in the stable at night.

May 3rd: Lola has started kicking out at her belly and rubbing her tail, but has not really developed an udder yet.

May 4th: Standing quietly but scratching her back legs together and flashing her tail frequently – I think the baby’s kicking!

May 5th: Shaking her head and biting her stomach tonight.

May 6th: She’s doing what I call mooching in her bed – making a nest.

May 9th: Rubbing her tail and pushing against the stable – I find mares do this when their foals are active. Lola’s udder is developing and she has a tiny bit of wax on her teats. She is becoming very restless and walking her stable and stamping a lot, signs that she is becoming increasingly uncomfortable.

May 10th: This morning Lola didn’t want to go out in the field – unlike her! But we turned her out as I find it relaxes the mare. She’s in the field next to Zidane which seems to settle both of them. We’ve seen her rolling more than normal in the paddock.


May 11th: I’ve spent the last couple of nights watching her closely as maiden mares can be sneaky and she’s showing me all the signs of labour! I’ve now plaited and bandaged her tail and left the stable light on.

May 12th: This morning Lola is still reluctant to go out to the field and her udder is very full.

May 12th – 5pm: She has now completely waxed up on her teats and is dripping milk. Foaling should happen tonight!

7.30pm: The baby is either kicking or very big – contractions are happening!

8.45pm: She’s digging her bed (nesting)! Her back end spasms underneath her four times.

8.52pm: Eating some hay.

8.53pm: Mooching her bed and digging again.

9.41pm: I can see on the monitor that the white bag is visible. This is now when I can go in to her, never before as you can interfere with the birth. I’ve learned that in the past! Once the bag is visible it’s the point of no return for the mare, the baby is coming.

10.03pm: I can see two legs and a little nose but she seems like a big foal so I give Lola a little help and our new baby is safely delivered.

10.30pm: She’s standing for the first time, a very strong little girl.

As we always expected, Lola is proving to be the ideal mother. Zidane has had a good look at his new daughter and is very proud.

Mare and foal are now out in the field in the daytime, enjoying the sunshine, and Montana is loving testing out her long legs.

Larosa’s Pregnancy – Welsh section D Mare First Foal

We had lots of suggestions for names, following our Chase Stud theme of American states. I eventually had a shortlist of five and finally went for Montana.

It seems to suit her perfectly and fits very well with her brothers and sisters, Dakota, Oregon, Indiana and Arizona.

I’m sure you all wish her a warm and loving welcome to the trekking centre.

23.20: She’s feeding from mom.

Horse Of The Month – Zidane, April 2015

As we started our new horse of the month feature last month with our gorgeous mum-to-be Larosa, it makes perfect sense to follow with Zidane, the father of her baby.

Zidane is my 16.2hh KWPN Tobiano stallion, and is the sire of four youngsters so far here at the Trekking Centre – Dakota, Oregon, Arizona and Indiana. Our fifth will be Larosa’s little one, due on May 20th.

I bought Zidane in 2011 as a special birthday present to myself – he was the first horse I have ever bought just for myself rather than for the Centre. Some people mark a certain birthday with a fast sportscar – well Zidane is my Ferrari.

In my eyes he is the most stunning horse I have ever seen, not just conformation-wise. He has the most fantastic temperament of any stallion I have ever come across.

I found him when I had a mare that I wanted to put in foal. He was advertised at stud after coming over from Holland.

But when I rang up to inquire about him I discovered that his owners were about to put him up for sale. I got talking to them and said that one of the dreams I had always had was to breed my own horses.

They told me he was like no other stallion they had ever known. They felt he could have a very natural life here at the Centre where he could enjoy daily turn-out and being ridden regularly. I talked to them for ages about him.

And then I broke all my own rules about buying horses – I bought him unseen over the phone!

I just went with my gut and my heart – I felt it was something that was meant to be.

But then I went into panic mode – I was thinking “What on earth have I done?”

That panic disappeared the moment he arrived. As he came down the ramp I just wanted to cry – he was so beautiful. I was, quite simply, gob-smacked!

Buying him without seeing him could have been a gamble that backfired completely. But it has proved to be exactly the opposite.

From the day he arrived there has never been a single problem. He fits in fantastically well with the herd and with the treks. When ridden he is always under control and in the stable is a complete gentleman. He has the most perfect manners.

He has swum in the sea on the Wales holidays, led treks on the Chase, and set the pace on the Sheriff of Lichfield’s ride, where he is surrounded by up to 80 other horses. There is never a problem.

And he is very definitely my horse. We have a very special relationship and he is very affectionate.

We have found, too, that his foals inherit his nature. While they all have the colour of their mothers, it is his lovely temperament that Zidane passes on.

Everybody adores him – especially me. He is my horse of a lifetime.