The stables at Park Lane were managed by Peter Churchill at the beginning of the 1960s. Until recently, Peter was commentating on show jumping on Sky TV. John Quinn came to the stables in 1963 and there were usually between 12 and 15 horses and ponies in the yard. They all worked hard, 5 hours on Saturday, 5 more on Sunday and several hours during the week. There were only occasional liveries and these always worked in the school. Of course the work made them all very fit, they were able to hunt and compete successfully at local shows.
The horses were all fed on oats, bran and chaff and the ponies had chaff, bran and pony nuts. They had two feeds a day and hay morning and evening. They all had every Monday off and they had a 2 week break at grass during the summer. There was a small paddock on the opposite side of the road where the trailer and hay were stored, this was also used for jumping lessons. All other lessons and hacks took place in Bushy Park apart from the 7.00 am ride on a Friday morning. This was for experienced adults only and we usually rode beside the river towards Kingston Bridge.
John (or Mr Quinn as most clients called him) believed that no one ever learned to ride properly on a quiet horse – as a result, a number of his horses would not be considered suitable for riding school work these days!
Top of the ‘naughty list’ was a grey pony named Mystery. He was about 14 hands and very pretty and if you were a new client and told John that you could ride, you were put on Mystery (weight permitting.) I had my first ever ride at Park Lane on this pony, I didn’t know his reputation so was not nervous and he went pretty well. However, a few months later and during the winter, he bucked me off four times before we left the Chestnut Avenue! He was not my favourite!
Then there was Martini, an 11.2 black pony who was only ever used as a lead rein pony as he could not be trusted!! To be fair to him, he was excellent on the lead (usually!) although he was known to try and bite the horse in front! I only ever saw him ridden off the lead on two occasions when he was ridden by a very competent teenager – and he ran away both times!
Next there was Blarney, a 15 2 grey horse from Ireland. Looking back, he was a very nice type, just too young to be in a school as he was only 5. He would buck every time he cantered, you always knew what he was going to do because he would squeal loudly before bucking. I was once riding him under low hanging branches down the Five Furlongs, he bucked and I hit my head on a branch. That frightened him and he took off at a gallop, my hat was over my eyes and I couldn’t see a thing – much to the amusement of the other riders!
Finally on this list was Mr Teddy. He was a bay 15 2 cob who was prone to kicking so was always at the back of the ride which he hated. He therefore sulked and could be awkward to ride. He also hated big lorries and buses – not ideal around Teddington roads. He would often finish up in someone’s front garden! I loved him and when John decided that enough was enough, I bought him for £80! I kept him at grass in Hampton and had many happy years with him, he was a different animal out of the school.
There were some very good horses as well.
Quickstep was a 14 2 liver chestnut cob. He was totally obedient, never shied, pulled or put a single foot wrong. He was so good that I hated riding him at the time, these days he would be ideal!
Candy was a 15 3 bay cob mare, used for adult beginners. She was a total sweetheart, she would look after anyone but if you were experienced, she would give you a lovely ride. I took her hunting a couple of times and she out jumped everything!
Last but not least, there was Silver, an elderly pure white mare. She was very quiet and was used for nervous clients and the one or two disabled riders who rode at the stables in those days. She was bomb proof although she was difficult to lead from another horse because she had the habit of stopping dead and wrenching your shoulder! Having said that, I remember one very frosty Christmas morning when I rode her on a very fast ride and she ran away with me – I never heard the last of that!
I hope that you find these memories interesting. I rode at Park Lane for about 10 years and it was one of the happiest times of my life. I am still in touch with a girl who worked for John at this time – like me, she is now a granny! I wonder if there any riders from those days still riding there?!
Very best wishes
Liz Thomas (formerly Hampton)