Meet the rest of the ponies at Cotswold RDA.
OUR series on life at Cotswold Riding for the Disabled group has focused on two of the ponies that live there. In this month’s visit we have been finding out more about some of the other horsey heroes and the fun they get up to with their friend Flyer.
There are 13 horses and ponies at Cotswold RDA. They live in the lush fields around Cheltenham Racecourse, and are cared for by Yard Manager Debbie and groom Lou, with the support of a great team of volunteers and staff at the charity.
Looking after this baker’s dozen certainly keeps Debbie and Lou busy! Griffin, Rocky, Denver, Dave, Cookie, Ross, Bob, Sunny, Max, Bobby, Woody and new kid on the block, Freddie, are all Flyer’s friends at Cotswolds.
Dave is the group’s big friendly giant while “class clown” Griffin keeps everyone entertained by pulling faces. Rocky likes nothing more than a relaxing roll on the ground (especially when he’s just been groomed) and has a habit of picking things up and carrying them around.
“They all have different personalities – and there’s never a dull moment,” Debbie says. As herd animals, horses like to have a pecking order and the Cotswold ponies are no different.
In Flyer’s field, which he shares with his friend Woody, as well as Denver and Rocky, it’s Ross who’s in charge, while over in the big field, Cookie takes charge of his friends Max, Dave, Bob and Griffin.
“You’ll see Cookie leading them round the field in a line,” Debbie says. “He’ll also be the first to be allowed to eat if we put hay down – it’s their way of showing who’s boss.” As Debbie, Lou and the team prepare the ponies for winter, there is plenty to be done to keep Cotswold’s equine helpers in tiptop condition.
Despite living outside, the cold isn’t really a problem. Their warm coats – with the addition of rugs when necessary – make them well suited to the cooler temperatures. But the winter brings other challenges – like trying to keep them clean and dry.
Grooming obviously keeps them looking smart, and it is important for their health, too. “Muddy fields can create problems for horses’ hooves,” Debbie explains. “We try to keep their feet as clean and dry as the weather will allow, and make sure they always have somewhere reasonably dry to stand even when they are outside.”
Bringing the ponies in for their RDA work is a great time to check their feet for any problems, to give them a good rub down and make sure they are fit and well. “When they’ve finished work we dry off any sweat, give them a hay net, put a nice warm rug on if they need it and send them back outside for more fun.”
The weather brings another challenge too: frisky behaviour! When the wind gets up, Flyer and his friends like nothing more than giving Debbie and Lou the run around, much to their frustration and amusement. “It’s like their field becomes a playground when the wind gets up,” Debbie says.
“They can be standing still one minute then they all take off, so catching them takes for ever, but it’s great to see them having fun.” RDA life carries on throughout the winter, with Flyer and his friends enjoying sharing their time between helping their disabled riders and playing outside in the field.
Debbie and Lou put in the hours to keep them healthy, happy and well trained for their riders, but it’s worth the effort. “They give so much to us humans, and the least we can do is give them the best possible care,” Debbie says. “Looking after these amazing horses is the best job in the world.”