Nestled almost directly on the border of Cavan and Fermanagh Drumralla Stables – which has been nominated by its customers for Riding School of The Year in 2021 in Equine Awards NI – has been run by Tara Phair for 14 years.
The stables serve cross-communities and cross-counties reaching horse-hungry adults and children far and wide.
Drumralla also works with local authorities to provides safe and fun equine experiences for children with intellectual and physical disabilities.
Chatting to Tara, her abundant energy and great sense of humour lights people up around her. Horses have always been in her life, but starting the stables was born from a change on the home front.
“I began Drumralla Stables in 2008 when I took a career break from designing horse rugs,” she says
“I already had all the facilities at home; ponies, arena and the teaching qualifications.”
Friendships and horse-riding skills are made through challenges, fun and camaraderie
Skilful management of both ponies and people, plus a good sense of humour, seem to be at the heart of this successful riding school and Tara explains her philosophy. “Fundamentally, Drumralla is a place where continuous progression is the aim, and it is achieved through offering varied exercises for learning on horseback.
“Friendships and horse-riding skills are made through challenges, fun and camaraderie. If I don’t have a hearty laugh in every lesson, I feel it wasn’t worthwhile.
“Central to everything at Drumralla, we have a fantastic team of ponies and horses to suit all abilities.”
Getting them right
Those bomb-proof little schoolmasters are not an easy find as Tara explains.
“It is exceptionally hard to source good horses and ponies for teaching. I like all our animals to jump at least up to a metre, but to be equally good in the cross-country and to hack quietly.
“It takes a minimum of a year to train them properly, but I have some great young riders that produce them well.”
Conversely, when the time comes, the inevitable loss of a beloved riding school pony isn’t just tough on Tara, but these faithful friends are missed by all their little part-time jockeys.
“So far, we have been lucky and losing a horse has been rare: we have a great team of vets, a farrier, a dentist and a chiropractor to keep them in top condition.
“Also, we educate everyone on observation of horse health. On the odd occasion where we have had a loss, it is devastating, but we all grieve together, and that helps.”
There have been multiple challenges in recent years
As everyone knows, horses and ponies take a tremendous amount of time, energy and money to care for, and with an army of equines to keep going over so many years, Tara admits to there being some tougher times when factors out of her control threaten the business.
“There have been multiple challenges in recent years, but the biggest one was having nearly 50 horses in my care, and the Irish summer weather not playing ball, negatively affecting the production of haylage for them to eat.”
The sheer effort of hours in the arena teaching keen riders plus all of the associated husbandry can be a physical and mental challenge.
“I’m no different to anyone else in the industry. Horses are 24/7, 52 weeks of the year.
“However, I have a great support network with family, friends, customers, and employees. There is a real collective atmosphere here in the stables with everyone supporting each other through all types of life challenges.
Horses have given me absolutely everything
“I have a great work-life balance,” Tara says.
“Living on the same property as the horses means having a 24-hour minder, and I only have a 30-second commute. In my previous career, I was in the car for nearly four hours a day.”
When it comes to talking about what horses have given Tara in her life, she is full of thanks.
“Horses have given me absolutely everything! They have given me a purpose to get up every morning with a smile. They have given me a great social circle of friends, independence, humiliation at times and hard lessons learned, yes.
“But still, equally, they have given me confidence and gratitude that I’m lucky enough to be living the life that I am.”
And in terms of what horses can do for children? “Where do I start? Horses are the most giving and generous animals that humble an individual. They promote self-esteem, increased responsibility and physical health.
“There are no truer words than: ‘There is nothing like a horse to make you smile and nothing like a horse to make you cry’.”