Claire Dudley: Living a childhood dream in Much Hadham
PUBLISHED: 14:14 24 July 2010 | UPDATED: 14:51 20 February 2013
Claire Dudley shares her adult treasures with riders of all ages in 16 acres of beautiful countryside in Much Hadham
MOST of us will have exclaimed flippantly at a young age what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives and promptly forgotten all about it, choosing to do something else as we grew up. But not so for Claire Dudley.
At the tender age of six she told her parents she wanted to own a riding stables. To be fair she started off with regular visits to Sid the pony in the field opposite her home before her parents got the message and agreed to riding lessons.
Once she had taken a few, she was hooked and as a child every spare moment was spent helping out at the local stables until she was eventually allowed her own pony as a teenager. Despite their being no familial fondness of horses - 'mum and dad assumed it was a phase I'd grow out of,' Claire laughs - she was soon on her way to study stable management at university.
Her first pony had to be put down after being kicked in the field but her next steed, Jenna, lived to a grand age and even went to university with her.
While others went travelling in Australia to delay work, Claire found an opportunity to broaden her experience with the son of the country's most famous equestrian dynasty Wayne Roycroft. She worked for Wayne and his wife Vicki for a year. Although Wayne was no longer competing, he was - and still is - the eventing chairman of the International Equestrian Federation. Both had competed in the Olympics and Vicki was still showjumping.
'My job involved preparing the horses for competition and caring for them. To work with riders of this kind of skill was amazing. I improved my riding a great deal through some tuition from Vicki when she could afford the time but probably learned the most from watching them both ride. Different exercises that they used in their training I use in my teaching today,' Claire says.
After renting a yard in Hertford for three years, the chance came to buy a stables. Hadham Mill Equestrian Centre has been a riding school and livery yard for more than 50 years and has grown and matured in the six years since Claire took over. Situated close to the River Ash, the position is idyllic but does leave the yard vulnerable to floods as Claire discovered in her first year.
Luckily no horses were harmed - after being evacuated from their stables to the indoor school, the water level soon returned to normal, perfect for splashing through on a group hack.
Come rain or shine, whatever the season, Claire is up with the sun to tend to the 24 ponies and horses she has in her care. Among the oldest is Benson, a favourite with the children who come to the stables. 'He has taught a lot of Hertfordshire to ride,' Claire comments.
'Right from the age of six, running my own riding school is all I wanted, I am one of the very lucky few that has managed to achieve what I dreamed and now get to play all day with my horses and call it a career!'
Article taken from September issue of Hertfordshire Life