Saddle up for Knowle West riders
It is a sight that would stop people in their tracks on most housing estates.
But when Lois George, 12, and Caitlin Shakespeare, 10, ride their ponies through the streets of Knowle West, they barely get a second glance.
Horses and ponies are a familiar sight on this Bristol estate. Many children go riding along the streets and on nearby open land after they come home from school, and a number of adults drive horse-drawn wagons.
"We think nothing of hearing the sound of horses hooves," says Tracey Pool, who has lived in Knowle West for 32 years.
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"They're trotting along the road at all times. We don't wake up to the sound of birdsong, we wake to the sound of hooves!
"It's been estimated there are well over 100 horses around Knowle West, Hartcliffe and Withywood. There's a big Celtic culture as a lot of people have Irish roots, and horses are deeply rooted in the community here."
Indeed, the stereotype of horse riding as an activity for affluent country dwellers is dispelled in Knowle West.
The scenes here, a few miles from Bristol city centre, are reminiscent of the corporation housing estates of Dublin, where the tradition of riding horses in the streets has been immortalised in films such as The Commitments and Into The West.
Tracey, chairman of the recently-formed Grassroots Urban Horse and Pony Club, is hoping to bring a new dimension to horse riding in Knowle West by setting up an equestrian arena on the estate.
She is hoping to turn the two tennis courts at the Park Centre on Daventry Road into a riding arena by 2010 if she can get grant funding.
It is a plan that has been welcomed by young riders such as Lois, a pupil at Bedminster Down School, who had her first pony when she was two. "We usually ride in the streets, on Newquay field and round the quarry, but there aren't that many places to go," she says, as she sits on Sovereign, expertly controlling her chestnut pony while carefully balancing her two-year-old cousin Lacey- May on her lap.
"If there was an arena we could go beyond what we're already doing."
Caitlin's mother Vidette, 29, of Lisburn Road, is also enthusiastic about the idea.
"There isn't much for kids to do in Knowle West, and if Caitlin's down the yard with the horses, then I know where she is.
"I always know when Caitlin's coming up the road because I can hear the sound of Misty's hooves."
Don't the neighbours mind Caitlin bringing her horse into the garden? "No, our next-door neighbours have horses too and they're always out in the garden with them," Vidette replies.
Misty was Caitlin's Christmas present.
"It's expensive buying a pony, buying tack, and paying field rent. But I don't mind because she isn't hanging around street corners and it's giving her a responsibility, because as well as riding her pony she also has to look after it," says Vidette. "It's something she likes doing. They're always out riding. We don't see them in the school holidays and at the weekends, we just give them some dinner money and they're off.
"The risk is that as they become older they'll get bored with just riding around the field.
"An arena would give them opportunities to do jumping, and to learn more about riding."
The Park Centre where Tracey wants to set up an equestrian arena is on the campus of the former Merrywood Boys' School, which was closed nine years ago.
"There have been a lot of changes in Knowle West over the years," Tracey observes of the estate in Bristol's Filwood ward, which is one of the most disadvantaged wards in the South West, and in the bottom 10 per cent in the Government's deprivation indices.
"But throughout all the changes, the horses and ponies have remained a constant feature.
"It's a thing to treasure, and we can't let it go. There's been a lot of talk about regeneration in this area and new houses seem likely to be built.
"It's important to preserve something for these young people. If an arena was built, it would give them a venue where they could learn more about riding, and have the opportunity to make a career out of working with horses.".
Tracey's husband, Barry Pool, 58, was born on the Knowle West estate, and until he retired because of ill-health, was well-known as a local scrap merchant.
"He had shire horses painted on his lorries," says Tracey. "He's had an interest in horses since he was a boy. He used to go around in a horse and cart and collect pig swill with his friends, and he used to go to Priddy Fair in the Mendips and buy young foals and bring them back here to Knowle West. The couple live in Novers Park Road, near the stables on Novers Hill run by former jockey Will Haggett where many of the horses and ponies in the area are kept.
Tracey, who has two sons in their twenties, recalls: "For a couple of weeks I was seeing horse manure in the road everywhere I went. I realised there was definitely a need for a place where kids could go to ride, and that's when I came up with the idea for an arena."
Tracey, an Anglican Lay Minister, is hoping to obtain initial funding for the arena development through a trust which provides arts and sports funding for multi-faith projects.
In addition to making plans for a riding arena, Tracey is arranging for the Grassroots Urban Horse and Pony to be allocated a room at the Park Centre for educational work on equestrian matters.
In the meantime, she is arranging a number of activities for the club, including a road safety training course funded by the British Horse Society, which is expected to take place this summer.
"Some people assume a horse and pony club will be rather girly, but it's not like that around here," says Tracey, who has a childsize barrel-top gypsy wagon with a Shetland pony for storytelling about horses in the Bible.
"You see kids riding ponies and horses bareback around the estate, and you see horse-drawn vehicles. The other day in Melvin Square, I saw three horse-drawn vehicles in succession."
● The Grassroots Urban Horse and Pony Club will be holding a tack sale on May 23 between 2pm and 4pm at the Park Centre, on Daventry Road, Knowle West, Bristol. Admission is £1 per person. Pitches can be booked for £5 each, and traders should bring their own folding tables and chairs. For further information, call 07870 357744.
To find out more about horse riding in the Bristol area, go to our Riders website.