Sadness as Saintfield riding school closes

Sorcha Fitzpatrick on Eric, Kate Johnston on Lola with Lessans proprietor Philippa Auret on the last day before the closure of the riding school to concentrate on the livery service. Picture: Freddie Parkinson/Press Eye
Sorcha Fitzpatrick on Eric, Kate Johnston on Lola with Lessans proprietor Philippa Auret on the last day before the closure of the riding school to concentrate on the livery service. Picture: Freddie Parkinson/Press Eye
  • School has its origins in owner at age 13 being asked to teach neighbours’ children
  • Running the school meant difficult hours and high insurance premiums
  • Lessans will now concentrate on providing a livery service

A riding school in Co Down where thousands of people learned to ride a horse closed on Friday after almost 40 years.

Lessans, on the Belfast side of Saintfield, is well known in equestrian circles.

Kate Johnston jumps on Lola at the indoor arena at Lessans, with Philippa Auret looking on

Kate Johnston jumps on Lola at the indoor arena at Lessans, with Philippa Auret looking on

Speaking to the News Letter as she prepared for her last classes on Friday morning, the proprietor, Philippa Auret, told of her sadness at the end of an era.

“After a lot of thought, I feel that the time is right to take Lessans in a different direction,” she said.

Philippa now intends to use the large, rambling property — comprising fields, stables, barns, outbuildings, an indoor arena and several outdoor arenas — to concentrate on a “first class livery service”.

This will include individual and group training in all disciplines for clients who own their own horses.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of my past customers, many of whom have become close friends, for their loyalty and support

Philippa Auret, proprietor of Lessans

“The riding school has been in business for the past 39 years, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of my past customers, many of whom have become close friends, for their loyalty and support,” she said

Running the British Horse Society-approved school involved a lot of challenges: the cost of insurance was high and Philippa was busy most days from 6am preparing horses until after the last classes ended some evenings at 9pm.

A former competitive rider, Philippa began riding at the age of four and was aged 13 when the mother of some local children asked if she would teach them.

She agreed to do so on older jumping ponies, and the word spread, requiring the purchase of more horses.

Philippa with Kaz, the horse on which Ben Lowry learned to ride as an adult, as described below

Philippa with Kaz, the horse on which Ben Lowry learned to ride as an adult, as described below

“Lessans Riding Stables was born.”

Philippa’s late father, Lt-Colonel Geoffrey Auret, was secretary to the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and helped run North Down Pony Club. His wife was Dr Barbara Auret, Philippa’s mother.

Last year, Geoffrey’s brother John Auret (pictured on this web page), turned 100. A colonial army officer, he was born in what is now Pakistan.

The decision to discontinue the school at Lessans brings to a close a long chapter in which Lessans was often bustling with classes, particularly on Saturdays which were busy from morning until afternoon.

Another of the Auret family, Philippa's uncle, John, who turned 100 in November

Another of the Auret family, Philippa's uncle, John, who turned 100 in November

“I especially thank the current group of riding school clients for their loyalty, support and friendship over recent years,” Philippa said.

See Morning View

• AN ADULT BEGINNER’S STORY:

Prior to 2013, I was on a horse only once, at the age of 17, in Scotland, writes BEN LOWRY.

I loved it and always wanted to learn, but I never did. No-one in my family or that I knew well was into horses.

After reaching 40 I thought: if I don’t do this now, I will live and die having never tried it.

An experienced rider mentioned “a place called Lessans near Saintfield”.

I began with private lessons there. Controlling a horse using traditional techniques felt unnatural and mastering them was difficult and frustrating.

At times I felt I was making no progress, perhaps even going backwards.

But after seven months, I graduated to a night class of adults taught by Philippa Auret.
She greeted me with: “I’m not at all sure this class is right for you.”

Minutes into the lesson, the full line of riders was brought to a halt while Philippa corrected various failings in my posture.

For months I arrived each week as nervous as a kid on their first days at school, and I stayed firmly bottom of the class.

A day finally came when Philippa (pictured on this web page, with the horse I learned on, Kaz) said something about my progress akin to praise. I still suspect it was an act of pity/charity.

Horse riding is one of the finest (albeit dangerous) things I have done.

If you also have thought about learning, just do it. And try to find a pro to teach you, like Philippa.