Working with horses in London

  • Sarah Tuvey, 43, is a Londoner with a lifelong addiction to horses — a potentially expensive combination. Eight years ago, while looking for a home for her son’s Welsh Section A pony, she discovered a former rag and bone yard on Latimer Road, West London. With rag and bone men no longer in existence, Sarah saw the potential for Westway Stables Riding School.

    “You have to be 100% dedicated to horses here. It can’t be about fresh air and the countryside. If you care enough about the horses the backdrop disappears,” she says.

    The backdrop Sarah is referring to is the Westway flyover, and the soundtrack consists of engines, horns, brakes and sirens.

    “We’ve a lot stacked against us. It takes a great deal of dedication to keep the stables going,” she points out. “Finding affordable accommodation is hard — many yards provide shared living for staff but this is extremely difficult in London.”

    Some grooms also waitress to increase their income, which is exhausting after a day’s work on a busy yard. The expense is a serious disadvantage to London life.

    Sarah faces also unique practical difficulties. For example, there is no space for a muckheap, so this has to be removed daily. Feed storage is problematic, and without turnout the horses get through a huge amount of hay.

    When she first took over the yard, Sarah could not find an equine vet. “We had to box up an injured horse and take him to the equine hospital,” she says. Although she has a vet now, in an emergency rush hour traffic can be a worry.

    The horses take holidays on an Oxfordshire farm or at the wildlife park behind the Hoover building on the A40 and Sarah escorts rides to Wormwood Scrubs.

    “Hacking can be tricky,” she says. “We ride under a train bridge, which is frightening even for horses that are good in traffic. Fortunately, it’s recently been insulated. And some drivers react as though horses shouldn’t be here.”

    There are further hazards unique to the metropolitan area.

    “We have the problem of mopeds being raced around the perimeter of the sports centre next to the flyover above our ménage. But there are advantages. Even in the winter, we don’t have any mud!”

    The most satisfying aspect of Sarah’s job is the opportunity she provides for children living in London.

    “London isn’t an easy place to keep a pet dog, let alone go riding. It’s rewarding to be in an urban area yet see children getting involved with animals. I also feel that we’ve removed some of the stigma associated with riding. Local children now see horses as not solely for people with money and land.”

    Join Horse & Hound’s NAGS

    Membership of the National Association of Grooms and Students (NAGS) is free to all bona fide grooms and students. NAGS is sponsored by training provider KEITS, which offers Modern Apprenticeships, for those aged 16-25, as well as work-based training in equine, animal care and agricultural businesses.

    Benefits of being a NAGS member include: Horse & Hound subscription at £1 per copy, £3 discount voucher on a sack of Blue Chip Dynamic, 10% discount on Splash Equestrian equipment and clothing, no P&P charges from Equestrian Vision mail order and eligibility for NAGS-only competitions and offers.

    If you are interested in becoming a member, write to: NAGS, Room 2018, Kings Reach Tower, Stamford Street, London SE1 9LS (tel: 020 7261 6993), e-mail: nags@ipcmedia.com , or click here to download an application form in PDF format.

    And remember, the club is open to all students, not just those studying for an equine qualification.

  • This NAGS feature was first published in Horse & Hound (11 November, ’04)

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