A disused 19th Century cinema in Liverpool has become the unlikely home for an inner city riding school.
Park Palace Ponies launches its first taster sessions this weekend (13-14 May), which have already been fully booked out by enthusiastic local children.
The project is the innovation of 21-year-old Bridget Griffin and her father Keith Hackett, who wanted to create somewhere that was “accessible for everyone” to experience riding.
“It’s very much my dad who has been behind it,” said Bridget. “He wants to inspire the next generation of riders. So many people think it’s for posh people, which it isn’t — you just have to make sacrifices to do it.”
Bridget, who was born in Liverpool, learned to ride when she was seven years old at a school 20 minutes drive from the city centre, which has since closed down.
“Eight years ago I had to move to another centre — Gellings — which is about 30 mins away. I had my dad to drive me when I was younger, but when I got older, trying to get there was an hour long journey on two buses.
“We just thought ‘why isn’t there somewhere everyone can access easily?’. There’s a load of people without transport and we wanted to remove those barriers,” she explained.
“I’m so passionate about it because I know how much of a positive impact it had on me and I want to be able to do that for other people.”
After work to build a small yard and convert the 1880s picture house’s auditorium into an indoor arena, six ponies moved in to the premises in April. Bridget is also now living on site in a converted shipping container.
“We’ll be aiming lessons at seven- and eight-year-old children, as we have smaller ponies — mostly Welshies,” Bridget explained. “We’re also running pony care sessions, as we want them to understand the horses and their needs as well as just riding them.
“We’re offering basic learning to ride programmes where they will do walk, trot and canter. Our arena is a bit small for canter, so the last two lessons will take place at Gellings — it will also be good for the kids to see what they could move on to if they want to jump and hack later on.”
Bridget said the response from the local community in Dingle had been brilliant so far.
“As soon as we opened the gates there were 60 kids inside within half an hour. We had them in a line filling water buckets — they love all sides of it and they want to look after the ponies.
“They’re at our gate as soon as school finishes and it’s great to see that it’s been both the girls and the boys getting involved.”
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The non-profit making enterprise has been partially funded by the British Equestrian Federation (BEF), as well as receiving support from other local organisations.
“Liverpool City Council gave us eight to 10 acres of land to use for grazing, and the Florence Instititute, which is just down the road has agreed to give us more,” Bridget added. “We’re in the process of fencing it off and it’s good to see areas that were a problem with scramblers and quad bikes being used for the ponies, which is something people want to look after.
“The picture house has been part of the area for generations and it was just being used for storing furniture and was being ignored. It’s so special for us that it’s at the forefront of the community again,” she added.
BEF head of participation Anna Hall said: “The BEF is delighted to have been able to work with and support Park Palace Ponies, which has been set up as a proof of concept project for an urban starter riding centre. We will be continuing to work closely with the team in Liverpool to understand what works well and what the challenges are, and whether this could be an approach for future urban riding centres.”
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