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Two-year-old rider and Shetland take on challenge to support struggling riding school

A two-year-old rider and the pony she takes care of will be spreading the love this Valentine’s Day when they undertake a fundraiser to raise money for their struggling riding school.

Dulwich Riding School in London has been forced to close because of Covid restrictions and like many other riding schools across the UK, is facing mounting pressure to pay the bills.

Georgina Billings, 30, attended Dulwich Riding School from the age of eight and now takes her two-year-old daughter Dillan there. She came up with the idea for Dillan and Rocky, the Shetland she rides and looks after, to go on a sponsored walk round Dulwich Park on 12 February to help out the 60-year-old establishment.

Georgina said “pride” had stopped the riding school from raising funds during earlier lockdowns but at this stage of the pandemic, the owners have recognised that they could benefit from some help.

“I can’t say how needed Dulwich Riding School is in the area, it is a safe space for young people and somewhere where people who might never have been in the countryside or around animals can have that experience,” Georgina said.

“Everything about the stables is so inclusive, there are people there from every race and background, and it really is a community hub.”

Georgina said she had decided to organise Dillan and Rocky’s walk as it is something that could go ahead even with Covid restrictions. Since launching the GoFundMe page to raise sponsorship, she has been overwhelmed by the support.

“We initially set up a target of £500 and smashed that in the first day, so I doubled it to £1,000 and smashed that the next day, so now the target is up at £5,000,” Georgina said.

“There are a lot of people who started out at Dulwich who have gone on to bigger things and they have been coming forward to help.

“Nick Skelton’s groom Mark Beever started at Dulwich and he has made a donation, as has Greg Powell who is a stunt director for Pinewood Studios and specialises in horses.”

Dulwich Riding School is owned and managed by Jaye Montebello and was originally established by her grandfather Jim Bellman in 1961.

“My mum, who ran the riding school after my grandad, died three years ago and she left us a contingency fund for emergencies, so for the last 10 months we have been OK but now we are hitting rock bottom,” Jaye, who has 18 ponies on site, told H&H.

“We have two fundraisers running at the moment, one organised by one of our riders and the other organised by Georgina. They have done it because I refused to, I’m quite old school and I don’t want to ask people for money when everyone is having such a hard time.

“Since they launched people have been amazing — we’ve had carrots for the horses delivered and a microwave, tea and biscuits delivered for the staff. It’s incredible to know support is out there.”

Jaye said that some people had suggested they just “pack up” the business but she was bound not only by her 18 horses but also a 23-year-lease on the site, which has weekly running costs of £2,000.

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“People have said ‘can’t you put the staff on furlough?’ but they are needed to take care of the horses,” she said. “It would cost me the same to rent land for them as it does to feed them here so these things are’t really an option.”

Jaye said that rather than wallowing in “doom and gloom”, staff and volunteers have been trying to do what they can to “brighten everyone’s day” with social media posts of the horses.

“We have volunteers aged from 13 to 24 and they have been absolutely amazing and working extra hours,” she said. “They are sharing four or five posts a day of the horses and taking the time to put up pictures and videos on top of all their normal jobs.”

She added that the riding school got “a lot out of” its work with local community groups, many of which had “opened their eyes” to some of the problems people face.

“There have been so many kids getting in touch asking what they can do to help, they are so committed,” she said. “We don’t have an option — we have to reopen.”

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