‘End of an era’: much-loved riding centre to close after 45 years

  • Contessa Riding Centre will be closing its doors this month after 45 years of service.

    The family-run Hertfordshire centre was founded in 1977 by Tina Layton and her mother, the late Sheila Layton.

    In April 2020 Tina announced the centre would be scaling back its operations owing to the economic challenges of the pandemic, dropping down to 11 horses from around 30.

    Tina told H&H while the centre continued to run successfully after scaling back, it was “now the right time”, and the doors will close on 31 March.

    “After 45 years it had to happen at some point,” she said. “I had no one to take over and finding staff has been a struggle – the industry is really suffering, especially riding schools.

    “Last year I was awarded a fellowship from the Association of British Riding Schools, and we won best small riding school at the SEIB Insurance Brokers awards, so we’re going out on a high. We gave our riders warning about the closure three months ago so it’s not been a huge shock right at the last minute, but everybody’s very sad.”

    Contessa was named after a Welsh mountain pony, who Tina and Sheila bought to sell on but decided to keep and breed from. Tina took her coaching exams and ran the teaching side of the business, and Sheila dealt with the administration and accounting.

    The centre catered for riders from beginner to advanced level, and was known for its classical methods of teaching, welcoming visiting trainers including the former first chief rider at the Spanish Riding School, Arthur Kottas.

    Tina said she has been asking people to write to her with their memories of Contessa.

    “It’s amazing reading some of the things from students who were here 30 years ago, they say they still remember how we taught and that they have carried on that way,” she said.

    “We have been quite influential on people’s careers and understanding of horses. We still have people coming here that started with us in 1977, which is incredible.”

    Tina said the closure of the centre is the “end of an era”, but the Contessa vaulting group will continue under Jamie Pinto. A sold-out lecture demo will take place at Contessa on 26 March followed by a party for friends, clients, and former staff and students.

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