Prince Philip opened the new £55,000 Stella Hancock Group RDA Carriage Driving Centre at Merrist Wood, Surrey, last week.
The purpose built carriage driving centre for disabled drivers is situated in the grounds of Guildford College’s Merrist Wood campus and includes an undercover grooming area, stable, club house, harness room and carriage house.
The centre caters for drivers of varying abilities ranging from the severely disabled, who are taken for a drive by able-bodied instructors, to capable drivers who compete alongside able-bodied drivers in club events.
Judi Ralls, chairman of trustees of the group and one of the chief fundraisers, says: “The group uses ponies which are kindly lent to the centre by their owners, and having all these facilities on one site makes a real difference.
“We are extremely grateful to the college for allowing us to use the grounds, and everyone who donated funds to help this project reach its completion.”
During his visit, Prince Philip saw four of the group’s disabled drivers take part in a musical drive in the college’s main indoor school, as well as meeting many of the group’s disabled members.
He also presented a long service award to Little John, a 20-year-old Welsh section A pony who played an active role in the group during the past 10 years until he retired earlier this year.
Prince Philip then took a ride from the indoor school down to the group’s clubhouse on board the Millennium Coach, which had been brought down from Yorkshire especially for the occasion, before inspecting the new facilities.
The 27-year-old group was originally set up as part of West Horsley RDA group by Stella Hancock, Felicity Andrews and Sarah Garnet. The driving group became independent in 1987 and changed its name to the Stella Hancock Group following her death in 1988.
Prince Philip says: “Stella and Ron Hancock were pioneers in using ponies [for driving for the disabled] and it gives me great pleasure to see how many people are also deriving pleasure from driving them.”