Exmoor’s legendary Porlock Vale Riding School is the latest establishment to lose the battle against rising rates, and has wound up its equestrian interests.
Speaking to H&H just days before the closure on 31 December, owner Helen Youd blamed “burgeoning health and safety”, foot-and-mouth and a declining market for the demise of the school, which once served as an Olympic training camp and enjoyed a worldwide reputation.
Horses have been at Porlock Vale House, a country hotel in the heart of Exmoor, since the 1930s, but the riding school proper was founded in 1945 by Tony Collings and his business partner and horseman Capt Chris Leyland.
During its history, the school has been a pioneer — holding Britain’s first dressage course, building one of the first indoor schools, supplying horses for the equestrian section of the modern pentathlon for the 1948 Olympics and training the British three-day event team for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.
Tony Collings was responsible, along with Col Harry Llewellyn and Col Mike Ansell, for the establishment of the Horse of the Year Show, and he also helped to found Badminton Horse Trials, riding in the first event in 1949 and winning in 1950 on Remus.
Former Porlock students include dressage trainer John Lassetter, event rider Bertie Hill, equestrian author Diana Tuke and show producer Richard Ramsay.
While the hotel continues to thrive, Mrs Youd said the equestrian business had suffered “for some time”. When she and her husband, Kim, bought the establishment 12 years ago, the school had 30 horses, an indoor school and sizeable cross-country course.
“It’s really been a battle since foot-and-mouth — we haven’t just thrown in the towel,” she said. “The finances haven’t stacked up for some time, and our losses have been increasing.
“The local population isn’t enough to sustain the school. Most people on Exmoor have their own horses but they don’t want the training — and even with the indoor school we can’t pull in the people for evening riding.”
The remaining 10 horses at Porlock Vale House are either being retired in the grounds or rehomed to locals.
Read this news story in full in Horse & Hound (4 January, ’06)