A little bit of country living in the city

Above right: Ailean Mills – Joint owner and director, Ealing Riding School

Living in London has much to recommend it but we do miss out on the outdoor life. Riding is a skill and being around horses is a pleasure that most city kids just don’t experience as riding is an expensive hobby and riding stables are few and far between, so we are lucky in Chiswick to be in range of Ealing Riding School, run by Chiswick residents Ailean Mills and Charles Meynell.

“Riding is like skiing”, says Ailean “in that it has that slightly dangerous element which challenges children and gives them a huge sense of achievement” as well as a bit of fresh air and exercise and a few hours away from digital pursuits. One thing you cannot do on horseback, unless you’re a Cossack, is to have both hands and your concentration employed by a screen.

Charles is a tree surgeon and woodsman who took over the stables four years ago after the death of long term owner Geoff Edwards, who established Ealing Riding School in the 1970s. Ailean has had a very successful career in advertising and like Charles has worked all over the world, but originally from the Hebrides, she joined Charles as a co-owner and director as they both cherish the opportunity to spend time with horses and dogs.

The place is busy and thriving with children and adults squelching through the mud to find their horse or pony and mount up, with staff checking girths and whatever else it is you have to check before heading out in an orderly manner towards Ealing Common. There are around 25 part time and full time staff as well as the groundsman who lives on site and a roster of 50 or so volunteers, some as young as seven, so the staff are able to give the time and attention required by their very diverse clientele. They give individual lessons for anyone who needs their full attention, be it a child with special needs or an adult actor with a film role which involves riding, who needs a crash course to go “from zero to hero” as Aileen puts it. They also take group bookings, in which adults and children get to know each other as well as their mounts.

“In this age of selfies they like to spend some time posing with the horses” says Aileen, and people also like to look after the animals, grooming them and learning stable craft. Even quite small children can prepare a bag of hay or do a bit of mucking out and they have had more than one stressed city worker ring up and ask if they can come and groom the horses on doctor’s orders. Grooming horses is very therapeutic apparently. “They leave the stables with smiles on their faces” she says. They also have a group of teenagers who have been excluded from school who come once a week, which presents its own challenges, and they teach clients everything from basic riding skills to dressage and show-jumping.

Ailean showed me round the stables and proudly pointed out their latest acquisition, a horse box which enables them to go on days out so people can experience riding in the real countryside or on the beach. They take some horses in livery but they mainly teach riding rather than providing boarding for privately owned animals. As an educational trust they are well versed in the requirements regarding people working with children. They have instructors who are members of the Riders Disabled Association and they take safeguarding extremely seriously. The list of regulations they have to meet to run a riding school might be daunting to some – animal and human welfare, land use and environmental considerations and all that comes with running any small business – but Ailean takes it in her stride, not shying away from the bureaucratic challenges (who knew there were so many horse related puns to pick from?) because she absolutely loves the interaction with horses, people and dogs.

Ealing Riding School is a member of The Chiswick Calendar Club Card scheme. See their Club Card page for their current offer.

Ealing Riding School, 19 Gunnersbury Ave, London W5 3XD

Tel: 0208 992 3808