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City ponies move to luxury temporary homes thanks to racecourse boss

Ponies from an urban riding school have found a luxury “evacuation” home with the chairman of Aintree racecourse.

The racecourse already has a close working relationship with Park Palace Ponies — an innovative set-up operating out of an 19th century theatre in the Dingle, Liverpool.

The social enterprise was established three years ago and has become a treasured part of the Toxteth community. Its eight ponies usually graze on nearby council land but as Covid-19 lockdown was enforced, its voluntary directors were keen to ensure they could be safely cared for.

“One of the problems we faced was that we wanted to be able to pay our staff and to do that, we had to furlough them, which is a really difficult situation when it comes to animal care,” said director Bridget Griffin.

“Other than the staff, we have five voluntary directors and most of them are in their 60s. To turn out we have to walk down a main road in the city and we usually do it in pairs and it wouldn’t have been safe.

“Luckily the phone rang just at the right minute and it was Rose Paterson from Aintree offering to take some ponies in.”

Two ponies have gone to Rose and another two to her neighbour in Shropshire, while the remaining four ponies are with the Porter family in Stockport, who are neighbours of one of the school’s instructors.

“It really takes the weight off your shoulders, as they have said ‘we will treat them as our own’, which is exactly what you want to hear as a horse owner,” Bridget added. “At least you know that even if people fall ill, they are in a field with access to water and shelter and will be fine.”

She said the ponies had been settling in well in their new homes.

“Where Bobby and Kev are is actually quite posh — we were sent a picture of them next to a tennis court which is a bit different from the middle of the Dingle,” she said.

“I was also sent a picture of Will, who is with the Porters, trying to walk into the conservatory.”

Park Palace Ponies works a lot with local schools and has previously joined forces with Aintree on a number of initiatives.

“There’s a perception that because you live in a city, you can’t have a job with horses and we want to change that perception,” said Bridget.

“Aintree is also focused on having bonds with the community and although the [Grand National meeting] is as a big event locally, the races are still seen as posh and we want people to know that everyone can go and be involved.

“Other people feel that you can go to the races but they wouldn’t be able to go near a horse or learn to ride. By working with Aintree, we’re trying to cross over the two.”

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Every year Park Palace Ponies runs a learn to ride course, which culminates with a graduation ceremony. Last summer this was hosted in a suite at Aintree with the children getting to meet 2012 Grand National winner Neptune Collonges, as well as touring the course and weighing rooms.

“As well as children coming to us, we have also been going into schools to teach about horses, with the lessons being joined up with the science syllabus,” said Bridget. “Our next event was going to be a walk in March co-organised with Aintree, with Ruby and Katie Walsh as well as Neptune Collonges as guests. We were going to walk to local schools and give presentations on how we were all working together but it has had to be postponed.

“Hopefully we will get to reschedule — we want to build a relationship to Aintree in the community and for kids to understand that horses are normal and that if they want to be a jockey, it doesn’t mean they can’t just because they come from a city.”

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