A special thing about studying abroad is getting to experience old rhythms in new ways. Something that has been an important part of my life since I was little has been horseback riding. Whether it’s riding almost daily, competing on equestrian team, involvement with 4-H, teaching riding lessons, volunteering at a therapeutic riding center, or working in the barn, I’ve spent countless hours around horses over the past ten years. I knew moving to a city wasn’t particularly conducive to equestrian activity, but nevertheless, I packed my riding breeches, just in case.
I learned that as a part of our program at LHU students were encouraged to volunteer with a local charity. Because of my horse experience, I started to look for a stable where I could volunteer. I was happily surprised to discover Park Palace Ponies, a stable less than a thirty minute walk from my flat!
Park Palace Ponies
The stable is located in the midst of a residential area near the River Mersey. On my second trip, one of the staff members gave myself and another new student volunteer, Jill, a tour. She explained that the building was a heritage building constructed in the 1890s as a music hall and theater. In the 1950s, it became a cinema after which it had various purposes including a storage facility, a chemist factory, and then storage again. Park Palace procured the property in 2017 on a 6 month pilot process to bring horses to kids in the city. It was so successful that it became a full time operation! Currently, Park Palace is in the process of building a riding school a mile or so down the road which will offer more advanced riding lessons to students and adults.
The area that was once the auditorium is now the riding arena. The balcony has long been destroyed, but the holes in the wall from the supporting joints are still visible. What was once the stage is flanked by pillars, now decaying, and the intricate floral designs and woodwork on the ceiling are now cracked and crumbling. Following a visit from Edward the VII, a royal coat of arms was installed. The circular opening in the roof once housed a massive candle chandelier whose light reflected off two mirrors on the side walls (one of which still remains) to provide light to the auditorium. Above what is now the tack room served as the wings for the stage. The roof is leaking and in certain areas at the front of the building has collapsed, but because it is a Heritage Building, repairs are extremely expensive. If the funds could be procured to restore the building to its original splendour, it would be magnificent.
The Yard + Herd
The yard is at the back of the building. It has a small paddock and stalls enough for the nine ponies that are housed there, including DeeJay, Magic, Will, Millie, Jessie, and Moses.
The yard offers lessons in the evening, birthday parties on the weekends, and hosts school groups in the afternoons. Consistent with all the Scousers I’ve met, all the staff and volunteers were friendly and welcoming. They wanted to know why in the world I came to Liverpool and what I was doing at the stables. For some reason, they said they loved American accents. Maybe they were just being nice…
Over the last 2.5 months, Jill and I volunteered at Park Palace on a weekly basis during our Wednesdays off from classes. It’s been interesting to observe the stable practices here compared with what I’m familiar with in the various barns I’ve worked at back in the states, including differences with horse care, stable management, and turnout. My volunteer tasks have ranged from mucking stalls, to pony care, to helping with lessons, to walking the ponies to the turnout paddock down the road, to loading plastic bags of manure into a van to be delivered to various allotments around the city. In case my horse friends back home had any doubt, I much prefer mucking into a wheelbarrow and spreading behind the tractor than the whole plastic bag set-up, although it works excellently for the limited space and city regulations here.
Even though I miss riding and afternoons at the stable tend to make me miss the barn at home even more, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be around horses and fellow horse-lovers. Rather than go on and on about why I love horses and could spend endless hours in the barn, I’ll end this post with one of my favorite quotes, which seems especially fitting in England:
“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
New Scouse/UK Word/Phrase: Ok, I’m so excited about this one! It’s an iconic phrase that I heard for the first time this morning at church lunch: “Rough as toast.” Used my one of my friends to describe how she looks on a Saturday morning train.
Kodak Moment: The double rainbow over Crosby beach during my first time ever swimming in salt water last week. The water was freezing so it was more of a quick dunk and a sprint back across the beach than a proper swim. Regardless, the rainbow was spectacular and a timely reminder of God’s faithfulness to close out my time in Liverpool, just like the rainbow I saw during my first day here.
Someone new I met this week: There were more goodbyes than new hellos this week. 🙁
Word of the week: Winding-down.