Heavy riders and high costs behind trekking centre’s closure

  • A family-run Dartmoor trekking centre is to close after 35 years for reasons including increasing rider weight.

    Owner Dee Dee Wilkinson has cited a number of reasons for the closure of Babeny Farm, Poundsgate, on 2 September, including increasing costs and the limited time families can take holidays – but also the rising number of heavier customers.

    “Our public liability [indemnity limit] has gone up to £20m, which means the cost of the insurance is too high, then it’s £85 every set of shoes, plus vets, feed, wormers — it all adds up,” she told H&H.

    “We get about eight weeks a year of really good business, because families can only come in the school holidays, and the rest of the year is hard work and high costs.”

    Mrs Wilkinson explained that her horses are “amazing” as they have to be safe and reliable enough for complete beginners to ride on treks.

    “And people have the expectation that nothing will go wrong, which is nice, but they’re living animals and even when you’re completely safety-conscious like us, there’s a risk,” she said.

    “Then there are the customers who are 5’ tall and up to 16 stone, and expect to be able to balance on a horse. We have to use bigger horses because of the weight ratio but then you’ve got a very small, round person on a big horse, which is an accident waiting to happen.

    “You can’t source big enough, safe enough, horses for these people.”

    Mrs Wilkinson said the most extreme case in terms of potential riders was a woman who was 5’4” and 25 stone.

    “I’d have been putting her at risk if I put her on a horse,” she said.

    “I was concerned that she had no core strength and would have fallen off, and it’s a long way up. We’ve got a weight limit of 16 stone, and that’s limited to an hour’s ride.

    “It’s difficult; we’ve got a couple of horses who can manage but I think there are 30% more of these heavier riders now than when I took over running the centre in 2014.”

    Continues below…

    Mrs Wilkinson will concentrate on the farming side of the business and the livery yard she runs at Babeny Farm, with her husband Darren. The trekking horses will be sold “when the right homes are found”.

    “It’s very sad as Babeny has provided a trekking service to customers far and wide, internationally and nationally for many years,” she added. “It’s given numerous happy memories to people and for many their first ever experience of being near and riding a horse. We have no doubt that it will be very sadly missed.”

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