Princess Royal happy to play her part in former team-mate’s double celebration

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The Princess Royal officially opened former eventing peer Ian Stark’s Equestrian Centre (ISEC) near Selkirk last Wednesday.

And the Riding for the Disabled president also celebrated the 50th birthday of the Ettrickbridge and Dryden RDA group, meeting and talking to riders and volunteers.

The group’s Glynis Sawyers said: “The Princess Royal loves RDA and anything to do with horses. We did a 20 minute display and it was really good. She was so relaxed. It went well.”

The group was started in Ettrickbridge in 1964 by the late Miss Florence McGowan, who recognized the benefits children with various disabilities could gain from riding.

She used her own ponies and borrowed others from local friends and gathered a group of volunteers to help her.

The group ran there until Miss McGowan’s death, when it moved briefly to Bowhill, before joining the group at Dryden which had been started by Jenny Stark’s mother, Jean McAulay.

Glynis said: “Mrs McAulay took the group from strength to strength and was the major driving force behind it for many years. The group had a short spell of uncertainty following Jean’s untimely death but, under the good guidance of regional and county personnel, gathered itself together and built itself up again.”

Riding continued at Dryden until June 2013, when the Starks invited the group to move with them to Greenhill Farm, where they were setting up ISEC.

“The weather gods were on the group’s side as the good weather meant that riding sessions could take place outdoors until the new centre was ready to use in late October of that year, ” said Glynis.

She continued: “Currently, the group provides riding for six primary children on a weekly basis from Easter until the October half term.

“There are also weekly sessions for two further groups of riders, one for 12 senior schoolchildren on a rota basis and one for seven adults.”

The group has three instructors and one trainee instructor, several volunteers and the two Thursday groups are assisted by students from Borders College on the SVQ Horse Care course under the guidance of tutor Alison Robertson.

Glynis said: “They are a valuable part of our team and the benefits work both ways. The students benefit from the experience of volunteering with us, they help get the ponies ready for the sessions and also assist in the riding sessions, building up a very good rapport with the riders.”

The group is self-funding – and the next fundraiser is a 50th birthday supper at the Hazelknowe restaurant at Woll Golf Course, Ashkirk, on Thursday, October 30.

The Princess went out for a ride with Ian Stark around the farm before meeting the ISEC founder, members and sponsors and officially opening the facility.

After the RDA demonstration, she cut the group’s birthday cake and made presentations to volunteers Marjory White and Caryl Thompson, for 50 and 35 years respectively with the association.

The Princess Royal was an eventing peer of Ian Stark in his early career, competing for the British team at the highest levels of the sport.

The centre itself was the brainchild of Jenny Stark.