Looking Back at a Memorable
National Championships 2019

Today, Friday 10th July, we should have been in the ring at Hartpury taking part in the 2020 RDA National Championships, with Sandra competing in the Open Class using single reins.  Alas, that was not to be and we can only contemplate what further triumphs Sandra might have achieved this year.  My heart goes out to all those disabled drivers and groups who qualified for the Championships with high hopes of personal achievements only to have them dashed by the coronavirus. 

So, instead, I thought we would revisit the scene of last year’s victory and take a pictorial trip down memory lane.  I have written about it in previous blogs so won’t go into details here.  If anyone wants to remind themselves of my reports then revisit the blogs from April (2020) and September (2019).

We are a resilient bunch and can only hope that we’ll be back next year to carry on the good work.

Best wishes


p.s. Are you aware that we have a YouTube Channel? It’s accessible from Smart TV’s, Smart Phones, Tablets and PCs. Check it out here.


Appreciating our Volunteers

You may be aware that this week has been designated National Volunteers’ Week and although we have not been able to go about the business of giving our disabled drivers their weekly sessions, those volunteers who are able to have been doing their best to continue their duties to our Group. 

There are many things I could say but I have just received a most timely message through RDA UK from our President, HRH the Princess Royal, whose words will resonate with us all, (transcript below with original at the bottom of the page).

Thank you all for your loyalty, enthusiasm and dedication.  We shall be back together again in the fullness of time.

In times like this, the contribution of volunteers to communities and organisations is more important than ever. Despite the fact that almost all RDA activity has shut down, I have been encouraged and heartened by people’s determination and willingness to carry on supporting their Groups and the local RDA network. Whether this has been making the effort to stay in touch with others, finding new ways to engage riders and drivers or helping to look after the animals, it is all making a difference to ensure that when we are able to, we can resume our work that enables disabled people enjoy the therapeutic benefits from being around horses, ponies and donkeys.

So in Volunteer Week, I want to say Thank You to you all – we are extremely grateful for all you are doing to support RDA.”

From: RDA UK [mailto:info@rda.org.uk]
Sent: Tuesday, June 2, 2020 10:28 AM
To: hilary.gilson@talktalk.net
Subject: Letter from RDA President to Volunteers

Jim Triumphs Again!

Hello Everyone

Something lovely happened this week and it’s all down to Lesley so this blog really belongs to her.  In her own words:

“A little while ago the BDS (British Driving Society) ran an online photo competition for the best head shot of a harness horse.  The winner would have the photo painted as a portrait by the judge, artist Anna Claire.  I thought there were so many photos of flashy cobs it would be nice to see a good, honest driving pony, so I sent a photo of Jim.  There were 133 entries….and I WON!!!!  Sooo exciting…Jim can win things without even leaving his paddock!”

Our Pony Jim

Well, I’m pretty certain Jim didn’t choose the photo and complete the competition form so it might have had something to do with you too, Lesley!  The photo chosen is the one from our website and we should say thank you to Ash Black who took the photo originally.  Thanks also to Gemma who always turns Jim out so immaculately on these occasions. Check out the British Driving Society (BDS) Facebook page for the report.

At a time when life is so trying, it is lovely to have something to celebrate and who better than our precious pony to lighten our day.

More from me next time.  This one belongs to Lesley and Jim.

Best wishes


In Reflective Mood!

Hello Everyone

Are you aware that today is the May bank holiday (what we oldies used to call Whitsuntide)?  Normally, everyone would be glad of an extra day off but at the moment it seems that every day is a day off (apart from the wonderful NHS and key workers of course for whom a day off would be very precious indeed).  Does anyone else feel as though the days are running into each other?  I had almost forgotten that we have just had a weekend!

Harbour Sky

As you can tell, I’m in a reflective mood this week.  I am very fortunate to be able to walk my dog, Trixie, around the harbour every day but this morning, for some reason, I was particularly struck by the clarity of the air, the intense blue of the sky, the bright glare of the morning sun, the loudness of the birdsong, and the silence in the atmosphere. 

The saying is that every cloud has a silver lining and it’s just my thought that the coronavirus, dreadful and deadly as it is, might be the saving of the planet in many ways.  What else could so swiftly and easily have lowered pollution, made people appreciate their surroundings and their neighbours more and remind us of how we can adapt ourselves to any eventuality when the need arises.  Difficult as things are at present, sooner or later life will return to some semblance of the way it was before coronavirus and those special moments of peace, the weekly display of gratitude to our key workers and the kindness of our supportive community will become a precious memory, although it is hoped we will all try to continue in the same vein.  What I’m trying to say is that whilst acknowledging that for many it is a time of anguish and anxiety, we should cherish the good things that have come out of this crisis and try to hold onto them.

Well, having come over all profound, I’ll lighten up and give you the answers to the Harness Quiz last week.  I’m sure that it was a doddle to those of you who are experienced whips but for the rest of us, I hope it was educational and that you were able to name some of the parts correctly.  Do let me know how you fared.  The Comments section is there for your feedback or you can email me if you prefer.

Jim in full harness.
Harness Quiz – Answers
1. Backband and breeching
2. Parrot clip on the backband
3. Terret on the pad
4. Crupper
5. The bit is a Mylar, and it is Jim’s
6. Liverpool bit
7. Rolled traces – something some us need to practice!
8. Quick release tugs
9. Breast collar, with traces attached.
Jim the cat … at 9 years old!

It was lovely to read Lesley’s updates in Comments last week about the yard and good to hear that Jim is in good heart.  One day we will all be able to meet up again and resume our weekly sessions … but not just yet!  Lesley tells me that Jim the yard cat had his 9th birthday recently.  He has lived at the yard since he was born and I imagine is relishing the peace and quiet!   

No pet “tails” this week, I’m afraid.  I’ll try again next week.

Please remember to complete the RDA survey, members, if you can.  If nothing else, it will provide a snapshot of this unusual time.

Best wishes


VE Day under Lockdown

Hello everyone.  I hope you are all staying well and finding plenty to keep you occupied in this our eighth week of lockdown.  I know they are apparently easing restrictions but if you look at the small print there isn’t actually a lot more that we, and I’m guessing you, can do that we haven’t been doing sensibly already.  Venturing out to the shops seems a rather scary move to me at present having been isolating for so long!

I hope you were all able to participate in the VE Day celebrations in some way.  Paul and I did our bit as you can see from the photos.  Although we couldn’t get together with our neighbours, we could hear them and it was a most enjoyable experience.

RDA News

I’m sure that you are all champing at the bit to get up to the yard, see Jim again, and recommence our weekly driving sessions.  Sadly, that won’t be the case for as long as we have to maintain social distancing since we inevitably have to be at close quarters with our disabled drivers and each other.  I have received various bulletins and updates from RDA UK which are most helpful for guidance.  The gist of their message is set out below.

Extract from RDA UK Update

Last Sunday’s announcement by Boris Johnson has given some indication of a move towards ending lockdown, however it has not brought in any new measures that could have an impact on RDA’s ability to restart most activities. In addition, devolved governments are clearly maintaining the lockdown stance for the immediate future. Our advice, therefore, is that groups should remain closed at least for the next three weeks, with some very specific exceptions, as below. As always, as and when new information or guidance is issued, we will update our position accordingly.

This, of course, is the simple response, although in reality there are many things which would need to be put in place before we can consider recommencing our activities and they are most unlikely to be fulfilled in three weeks’ time!  Your committee will meet when the time is deemed right and we will keep you updated on all decisions.

In addition, sadly but inevitably, we have heard from Miranda Purves that the Sands Farm Qualifier in September for the 2021 Nationals has been cancelled.   It is hoped that a Qualifier will take place eventually at a time when it’s deemed that Covid-19 is no longer a threat but it’s by no means certain.  All of life is uncertain at the present time so I’m afraid we must just grin and bear it.  The utmost priority must be for everyone to stay safe and well.

More Quizzing

Well, that’s enough doom and gloom for the moment.  With a view to the future and starting up again one day, the long-awaited Harness Quiz is set out below.  Lesley very kindly took photographs of various parts of Jim’s harness.  All we need you to do is Name that Part!  And if you can remember where each part goes, even better. I will provide the answers in my next blog.


We will take a trip down pet memory lane again next week.  Please do let me have any memories of pets past and present that you would like to share.  Photos would be good too.  I’m afraid my Tess passed away last week and is now enjoying the happy hunting grounds in the sky.  I have fond memories of her long life and can’t be sad that she is now forever young again.

Best wishes


More “Tails” from Cherry Park

Well, another week of lockdown means another blog from yours truly! 

I expect you’re all dying to see the answers to the Horse Breeds Quiz (see below).  It was quite a challenge with much lateral thinking required so I hope you managed to find a few breeds in there.

Answers to Horse Breeds Quiz 

  1. Dutch warmblood
  2. Tennessee Walking Horse
  3. Cob
  4. Cleveland Bay
  5. Suffolk Punch
  6. Dartmoor
  7. Shetland
  8. Mustang
  9. Irish Sports Horse
  10. American Paint Horse

At the yard, Lesley’s leg is recovering nicely from her recent mishap and she has sent a video of her driving Jim whilst (in her words) “holding reins, whip and phone” just to remind our disabled drivers how driving looks!  Such expertise from Lesley and Jim being an angel as usual.

We have a lovely “tail” this week from Sally who sent the following story of her beloved horse,  Venus.

Maple Venus in her heydey

“Maple Venus was my Norwegian Fjord mare. She came into my life as a yearling as a result of the dispersal sale of the Maple Stud in Cranleigh in 1985. I originally bought her as a companion to my ¾ bred mare but I had no idea she would turn into such a super horse.

She won the Championship at the breed show as a 2 year old and then had a successful in hand showing career. She had a fantastic jump so we had fun doing masses of sponsored rides – the photo was taken in front of Petworth House. She was such a fun ride. Bombproof but on her toes and liked to bounce around and buck! I had the pleasure of having her in my life for 33 years.

Maple Venus in her twilight years – aged 34

The second picture was taken on her 34th birthday in 2018 – just 3 weeks before I sadly lost her. She was my once in a lifetime horse. “

Thank you, Sally, for sharing your beautiful horse with us.  RIP Venus.

I promised you a quiz about harness.  Look out for it next week.

Stay well, stay safe.

Best wishes


Recent News from the Yard

Following my flurry of blogs recently, I ran out of steam last week.  The weather was too beautiful to be indoors so I spent a lot of time in the garden which has not seen so much tidying up from me for a long time.

The downside to that is that my propensity for hay fever reappeared and in the current crisis every sniffle, sneeze and cough immediately becomes a symptom of the dreaded virus.  I had to give myself a good talking to, viz. you haven’t got a temperature, your cough is only occasional, you wake up every morning (importantly) feeling quite well, get a grip…  A hay fever tablet did the trick to reassure me, but does anyone else feel like that or is it just me?

As well as all that, my dear old dog, Tess, is fading away gracefully, eating only when she feels like it and tottering about on increasingly shaky pins.  I shall keep her comfortable for as long as I can and accept the inevitable when it happens.

Enough of me and my woes.  I must tell you that Lesley, needing some time out from tending to ponies, fell over the trolley containing cones and gashed her leg, resulting in a visit to A & E where she was patched up in super quick time (miracle!) and sent home to rest.  Fortunately, her husband Colin came to the rescue to help with the ponies and now Lesley is feeling much better and was even able to drive Jim last weekend, with help again from Colin as her leg is still sore.  In the meantime, she has got her sewing machine out and is busy making cloth masks and scrub bags for the NHS.  You can’t keep a good woman down!

It occurred to me that the Pony Photo Quiz which I gave you to work out last week was not entirely fair on those who don’t know the yard’s ponies very well but maybe you were able to pick out Jim.  The answers are given below.  Give yourself a pat on the back if you got any of them right.

Pony photos Quiz
Questions and answers

Question Answer
No. 1 Whose foot is this and where is it positioned?Jim, near fore
No. 2 Who knows this nose?Tom
No. 3 Eye, eye! Who is this?Jim
No. 4 Whose little, orange ears are these?Archie (or Winmark Archangel if you want to be formal)
No. 5 Whose nostril is this?Archie
No. 6 Does anyone remember where this is placed?On the trailer
No. 7 Who is this, busy eating?Tom
No. 8 Fore or Hind? And who does it belong to?Hind, Archie
No. 9 And finally, whose beautiful bottom is this?Reuben

If you want to try some mental gymnastics then have a go at this one: 

I will give you the answers in a day or two.

More “tails” and quizzes to follow shortly.

In the interests of keeping us all occupied our friends at the RDA have a variety of training opportunities which I’ve made available via a pdf file (Acrobat Reader required). I hope you find them of interest:

Bye for now.


Pony Photos Quiz

Hello Cherry Parkers and Friends

As you might guess, I have spent the past few days in the garden, planting up a new bed and wishing that we could have some rain.  Well, hey presto, it arrived today and very welcome it has been too.  It also meant that I could come indoors for a while and write another blog to keep you entertained which I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for with bated breath!

I promised you a quiz and Lesley has come up trumps with a corker, thank you Lesley.  So I hope you can remember everything about the ponies back at the yard.  The answers will be in my next blog in about a week’s time.  No prizes but you’ll all get a gold star for your efforts in due course.

I hope you are all well and that life is uneventful in the best possible way.

Stay safe.


RDA Group of the Year –
Carriage Driving Awards 2019

Cherry Park attendees on arrival at The Carriage Driving Awards 2019
Carriage Driving for the Disabled Group of the Year

Winning the award of Carriage Driving for the Disabled Group of the Year was an overwhelming and thrilling experience for Cherry Park Driving Group.  As a small group we have faced many challenges over the past five years, being reduced to one pony and a handful of dedicated volunteers, and having to move our venue on two occasions.  Despite that, 2019 proved to be very successful both in terms of “keeping our show on the road” and winning the Championship at the RDA National Championships in July with our star disabled driver.  To have our efforts acknowledged by those responsible for the Carriage Driving Awards was satisfying, morale-boosting and motivating, not to mention humbling in the face of our equally deserving peers. 

Lesley, Gemma, and Hilary with Joanna Hartland of Hartland Carriages, Sponsors of Carriage Driving for The Disabled Group of The Year

All those connected to Cherry Park have been proud and delighted for us and we hope that the profile raised will be beneficial for the future of the Group.

The ceremony at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens gave us the chance to mingle with the best in the carriage driving world.  Apart from the award giving, my favourite part of the evening was watching the rolling slide show of the many and varied aspects of carriage driving.

At present, our award and certificate are under the care of me as Chairman of the Group but will be displayed at our Annual General Meeting and thereafter in a prominent place every week at our venue.  For me they are a reminder of a splendid evening and the culmination of an amazing year.

(written before the Corona virus crisis).

News from the Yard 13th April 2020

I hope you have had a pleasant Easter weekend.  It seems ironic, doesn’t it, after all those weeks of interminable rain and cold when we were slipping around in the mud and didn’t want to venture from the hearth, that a heatwave should appear at the precise time when we are not allowed to go out and enjoy it to the full!  I hope those of you who can have at least been able to enjoy a walk in the sunshine.

A few days ago, Lesley reported that she had given Jim her undivided attention that day.  She says “He had a good brush and got rid of loads of hair which he enjoyed very much.  Next, it was on with the harness, with a look of surprise from Jim!  He was put to and driven for about 15 minutes in the field.  The last time he was in harness was at Christmas time when he transported Father Christmas.  He was as good as gold and hadn’t forgotten a thing”

Jim was obviously feeling the effects of the heat in the remains of his winter woollies.  As you will see, over the weekend he has been given a makeover, courtesy of Gemma, and what a very professional job she has made of it. 

I’m very envious as my hair is getting shaggier by the minute. Mind you, I imagine he’s feeling the cold this morning following a 10° drop in temperature! He looks in amazing shape. Thank you, Lesley, for looking after him so well.

Look out for my next blog which will include a photographic quiz! 

Stay safe and well.