A South Lakes riding centre is rebranding to reflect the work it does to make positive and transformative changes in people’s lives.
“We are not like many riding schools. We focus on equine-facilitated learning, rather than just training people to ride horses and be competitive,” said Zara Myers, the chief executive of Harness Change at Cumbria Rural Academy CIC, which is based near Newby Bridge at the southern end of Windermere. “Our journey of progression is internal and about mindfulness, rather than about external goals and achievements.
“The rebranding to Harness Change at Cumbria Rural Academy CIC reflects the focus we put on teaching life skills and how everything we do is about improving the happiness, mental health and physical health of both horses and their riders.”
Zara is taking the reins at the company, previously known as Bigland Hall Equine Group, having competed internationally at dressage and worked in management consultancy.
Horses have always been a passion for Zara. “I have a vivid memory of being at Flookburgh Primary School at the age of five and a teacher asking us all what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said I wanted to run my own yard,” she said.
Soon she was grooming, mucking out and riding ponies. “It was drilled into me from an early age that I had the responsibility of looking after and caring for the horses.”
From her business background Zara started Harness Change for team and leadership development. Managers and their teams can visit the stables and work with horses to discover their skill gaps and develop their leadership style.
“When you work with horses they reflect and mirror how you present yourself,” explained Zara.
“If you are the kind of person who is domineering with your team the horse will react accordingly with non-judgemental feedback. This approach helps individuals to understand and accept skills gaps swiftly and means we can quickly get to the intervention stage, where we help people with techniques to make changes. The individuals can then practice these techniques with the horses and gain immediate feedback.”
She said such sessions were far more effective for companies in building teams than simply organising Christmas parties and meals out for staff.
A similar approach is used in alternative education sessions held with pupils from more than 37 Cumbrian schools. “We give pupils the skills to help them move into the workplace or from primary school to secondary school,” said Zara.
The ethos of Harness Change at Cumbria Rural Academy CIC is not just about riding but more about interaction and developing harmony between horse and rider.
“When this happens, people start to become centred and feel empowered, more resilient and fitter. They achieve a mental and physical focus when riding which helps them in their lives. It takes them out of the burdens of their everyday lives and gives them something special to take home.”
Harness Change offers a range of services in addition to standard riding lessons including a dressage club, hacks across the surrounding fells and an after-school club which follows the British Horse Society’s Changing Lives syllabus (focussing on core areas including communication, teamwork and resilience and which aims to boost participants’ confidence and life skills).
There are also a ladies morning club and a boys’ club (to boost diversity in what is often considered a sport for girls and women) and a pony club for youngsters who do not own their own horse, where they can take badges in topics such as eventing, dressage, farriering, farm animals and leadership.
There are more than 30 horses at Harness Change’s stables, including ponies, mid-range cobs for beginners and intermediate riders and high-quality horses such as Andalusians and Lusitanos.
Recognising that transport in rural Cumbria can be problematic for some, Harness Change also runs ‘pop-up pony rides’ at venues including Ford Park at Ulverston, Old Park Wood caravan site at Holker Hall and during family days at Cartmel Races.