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Riding school staff turn TV presenters for clients in lockdown

Staff at a riding school in Wimbledon have turned their talents to TV presenting as they try to keep their loyal client base involved during lockdown.

Wimbledon Village Stables has launched a Saturday “TV show” on video communication platform Zoom, as well as running video lectures and demos during the week.

Most of the riding school’s 20-plus horses have been moved out to grazing in Claygate, Surrey, while the business is closed to customers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Proprietor Carol Andrews said they had originally planned to do live chats to keep in touch with clients until someone suggested that people prefer having something to watch.

“We are so lucky that one of our clients is Deborah Hall, an ex-TV presenter,” Carol said. “She came over and gave us coaching on how to come across — though that might not be obvious from watching me — and the idea developed into a one-hour show.”

The horses who are turned out are being visited for twice-daily checks and the show involves checking in with a staff member in the field who is a “roving reporter”.

There is also instruction involving a horse on the yard and segments involving the stable’s riding simulator as well as a session on exercise tips for getting back in the saddle.

The additional weekly features have included tips on tack and bitting, talks on rider confidence and a segment on riding holidays.

“If anyone had told me before lockdown that I would end up doing this, I would have thought they were bonkers,” Carol said. “My nerves before the show went live were tremendous.”

She added that the response had been “fantastic”, with 84 people logging in for the third edition of the show last Saturday (11 April).

“We’re a small yard of 22 stables with a big team of staff as we believe in having the horses well looked after and we’re very sociable,” Carol said. “The Saturday before lockdown we had our annual ball with 130 people in a wonderful hotel — having had so many people enjoying themselves, I thought ‘we can’t just let this go’ when we went into lockdown. I really wanted to keep people connected.”

Carol added that she had received “amazing emails” of support from clients, many of whom have been continuing to pay even though they cannot ride.

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“We have a lot of regular riders who are part of the stables and are like family,” she said. “Reading their support has had me in tears and I wanted to give something back, so for those that have continued to pay, I have offered them a free 10-week BHS stage 1 course, and 55 people have signed up already.”

Carol said she hoped people would be back riding soon after restrictions were lifted but that the yard may carry on using some of the skills it has honed during lockdown.

“I am confident people will come back as soon as they can but I think it will take a while before they go on unnecessary trips. We used to run evening lectures with speakers like Clare Balding and I think people might not want to do those any more, so we may well keep some of the online content running.”

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