Learning how to ride is horse play

Feature on the Coloured Cob riding school which has won an award for its work with riders with mental health problems, pictured is owner Sharon Tolley with Charlie (w130315-4b)
Feature on the Coloured Cob riding school which has won an award for its work with riders with mental health problems, pictured is owner Sharon Tolley with Charlie (w130315-4b)

For nine-year-old Bradley Dexter, learning to ride has been about much more than just getting to grips with a horse.

Bradley is autistic and can find social situations difficult.

But when he is around horses he is like a different boy, says his mum Louise.

She noticed he had an affinity with them whenever they were out for a walk and passed the horses at the local riding school.

“He would stroke them and I could see that there was a connection there, so I decided to take him for lessons,” said Louise, of Portland Avenue, Creswell.

Luckily for Bradley that local riding school is Coloured Cob Equestrian Centre, on Mansfield Road, Creswell, which has just won a Healthy Places Award from NHS Derbyshire County PCT for its work with people with mental health difficulties.

Louise said: “What they’ve done for Bradley has been absolutely amazing.”

“He’s forming friendships, which he’s never had the confidence to do before, and he opens up to the other kids more.”

“It’s also helped with his co-ordination and his self-esteem.”

“He struggles academically so this is something he can be proud of. He had never ridden before starting last year but he is already doing jumps and says he would like to compete in the Olympics one day.”

Coloured Cob is run by Sharon Tolley who fulfilled a lifelong dream when she opened the riding school last year.

She has ridden since she was seven and believes in taking a compassionate attitude to training horses.

“Kicking horses to get them to do something is forbidden here,” she said.

“There is no need to kick them. If we want them to move forward we squeeze them gently, the same with turning left or right.”

“Horses can sometimes get confused about what they are being asked to do but if that happens our horses just come to the instructors for a cuddle.”

“They all have a favourite place they like to be scratched and they all have different personalities. We have empathy with the horses and treat them with compassion.”

Sharon, 43, who lives in the farmhouse at the riding school with her partner and sons, has 20 horses and said they all have a home for life.

“Once a horse has worked for me, even if it’s only for six months, it won’t be sold on, it will always have a home here.”

“We don’t work the horses constantly either, they get a break from lessons and go back into the field with their friends.”

One of the horses, called Grace, appeared on TV’s Come Dine With Me when the show featured cooks from Chesterfield.

Sharon has also teamed up with the Clumber Park Hotel to offer trek and treat weekends.

To watch a video of the Coloured Cob horses go to worksopguardian.co.uk.

For more information about the riding school go to colouredcob.co.uk.