Persona Wellbeing: Horse riding

Posted on
18 June 2019

There are two things you should know about Clair MacKinnon.

One: She loves horses.

Two: She is patient.

For as long as she can remember both she and her sister have loved horses. Unfortunately keeping a horse costs money and as a child the family just couldn’t afford it. But instead of sitting around feeling sorry for themselves they took the proactive approach and volunteered at Birtle Competition and Riding Centre where they have a riding school for people with special needs.


Time passed and as soon as they started working, the first thing they did was to book riding lessons. Since 1990 Clair has been riding at Birtle. Over that time she has never owned but loaned horses. Clair’s last loaned horse was a white highland called Gregore. Sadly he died in 2009. It was another 6 years later when Clair’s life changed. The stables had lost two horses and it was at this point that Clair and her sister decided to bring to a close their 25 year wait to own a horse of their own.


Enter Toby.


Toby came from a Gypsy Cob stud and sadly had a terrible start in life. Every type of abuse that he could be subjected to, he was. Beatings, starvation, being over worked to name but a few. Luckily, he was saved by a woman who took 5 months to gain the trust of Toby so that she could lead him and put a harness on him. One month later, Toby came into Clair’s life.


At the time when he came into her life, Clair was in a stressful job. Working 3 days away didn’t add up to a happy work/life balance. But with Toby in her life, he forced her to reassess. Going forward she was going outside every day, no matter the weather. Her improvement in her wellbeing wasn’t only physical but mental as well.



If she had a bad day, simply spending an hour with Toby was enough to destress body and declutter her mind. Owning a horse, can be very physical. Clair’s amount of cardio work has doubled, with mucking out Toby’s stable. Her steps total has more than doubled when she is at the stables. Not only that; by being outdoors all the time, her resilience to the coughs and colds have improved.


Mentally, looking after Toby has a mindfulness effect. When you are asking a ½ ton animal to do something, that bond and concentration has to be there, as at the end of the day, Toby is still an animal and can be spooked and injuries to both rider and horse can happen. The bond and partnership between rider and horse is very strong with Toby and Clair.


What it so great about Clair’s wellbeing journey is that she has given back to the community. It was always the dream to own a horse but they specifically chose Toby for his potential to be a horse that could be used for the Riding for Special Needs School at Birtle. After completing 4 months of training, Toby is a firm favourite amongst the customers. His temperament that has been cultivated by the love and trust given by Clair and her sister has made him into a brilliant therapy horse.


Wellbeing can come in many ways, and for Clair, Toby is the package deal.


Battersea Animal Shelter once had an advertisement of “Who needs who?” and it’s the same with rescue horses. Toby got a loving and caring environment to live in and Clair got to fulfil a dream, improve her health and give back to the community.


Find out more about Birtle Riding Centre here:

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