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Renowned riding school scaling down after 40 years

A popular riding school has made the “heartbreaking” decision to close the main part of its operation as a result of finances and the pandemic.

Contessa Riding Centre in Hertfordshire, a family-run business, was founded more than 40 years ago by Tina Layton-Elliott.

Since then, hundreds of children and adults have learnt to ride at the renowned school, which catered from those having their first experience on a horse to advanced riders.

Ms Layton-Elliott told H&H her priority was always to make it a friendly, welcoming place to be.

“I’ve always tried to keep it as a friendly yard — one of the things I instil in everyone who has worked for me is to greet anyone who arrived with a friendly ‘hello’ and a welcoming atmosphere,” she said.

“[Activity] is not completely stopping. There is quite a large vaulting team here, they are a good bunch of kids and lovely parents. For that I’m able to have 12 children to two horses, compared to 12 children needing 12 ponies.

“I’ll also keep a couple of my advanced dressage horses to continue with the schoolmaster lessons, teach people on their own horses and continue the clinics with visiting trainers.”

She added serious illness in recent years, combined with the economic challenge of running the school and struggles with staff recruitment meant the business was facing tough times before the pandemic.

Ms Layton-Elliott founded the school in 1977 with four horses, offering rides out, and initially planned to sell these. However, the number of horses instead grew and the rest is history.

“People come from all over the world,” she said. “We are tiny compared to some of the big schools, but we have some fantastic horses that people really appreciate.

“Contessa was our first pony here and the yard is named after her. We lost her when she was 42 years old, and she taught so many kids to ride — she was one in a million. Everybody remembers her. Like most of our ponies, once they come here, they stayed forever.”

In a statement announcing the closure on 15 April, Ms Layton-Elliott thanked everyone for their support.

“When the lockdown is over, I will try and find new homes for our school horses, but until that time happens we will still be able to give lessons on them until they are rehomed. Pre-paid valid vouchers will be honoured (excluding the lockdown) for their three-month period,” she said.

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“We have run Contessa with the help of some wonderful staff and fantastic horses for 43 years. Contessa is an internationally renowned Centre and that is due to the amazing clients that we have met and taught over the years. We would thank you for making and sharing these wonderful years with us.

Some staff have been at Contessa for many years; some staff have returned after being students and some staff have simply come back because they love the place and they feel they can learn so much from what we can offer.

We would like to say an enormous thank you to staff, friends and clients for your continued support over all the years. Hopefully, you will all understand why we have had to make this decision.”

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