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Livery stables business grew from rescued ponies.

Byline: By Hilary Clixby

Apartnership formed to support two rescued ponies has expanded to become the first livery stables in Alston for nearly 100 years.

Middle Bayles Livery Stables is run by farm tenants Gill Munro and her husband Russell and farmer owners Stephen and Kate Harrison.

When the Munros arrived to rent a house on the Harrisons' farm, Aimshaugh, they brought with them two rescued ponies, Tom and Jack, who were being nursed back to health by the couple after being found in appalling conditions.

Stephen and Kate were happy for the ponies to stay in one of their barns and use two of the fields on their land, and Gill decided to help support their upkeep by starting a small livery business.

Middle Bayles began with just four stables, but the immediate success of the venture led to the business applying for a pounds 17,000 grant from Defra's Rural Enterprise Scheme towards the cost of extending the yard.

They now have 17 stables in converted farm buildings, as well as a purpose built outdoor arena, paddock fencing and a mile-long all- weather riding track.

"What began as a small pilot project has expanded very quickly," says Gill. "We weren't sure of the market when we began as Alston has not had a livery stables since there were mining ponies here 100 years ago.

"We hoped to have 100pc occupancy within three years, but word has spread very quickly and we were full after eight months with a long waiting list.

"The horses are well looked after, happy and relaxed - we even play music to them at the stables which they seem to like and we are now considering expanding the business further."

The venture is also a welcome development for Stephen and Kate, who keep a herd of limousin cattle, 800 sheep and 100 suckler cows.

Stephen, whose family has been farming in the region for seven generations, had been considering new ways of generating income for the farm for a while, and despite being wary of horses himself he was keen to join forces with Gill and Russell to expand the livery.

"Our sheep and suckler cows are still the mainstay of the farm, but the industry is changing and it is becoming necessary to diversify and look at other areas of business," said Stephen.

"I have never been very interested in horses - in fact I am quite wary of them - but the livery has proved to be a great success and works well for all us."

The four worked in close partnership, drawing up a business plan with the help of Paul Harper from Cumbria Farm Link, with funds from the Farm Business Advice Service. The FBAS provides a free service for farmers, offering up to three days of one-to-one advice to identify the most profitable and sustainable way forward.

They successfully applied for RES funding, and completed most of the building work themselves, including constructing an outdoor arena with full drainage system and creating first class stables out of old cattle sheds.

Gill and Russell also give riding lessons, specialising in nervous riders, and Stephen, who rents out cottages on his land to holidaymakers, is thinking of offering a service whereby visitors can take guided tours of the countryside on horseback.

Tracy MacDonald, of Defra's Rural Development Service, said: "Middle Bayles is a great example of successful diversification, with the farmers and tenants working in close partnership to run a thriving business.

"Almost pounds 2m has so far been awarded to RES projects in Cumbria, and we hope to assist even more applicants over the next few years.

"Applications from those with a project that will meet a market or community need are particularly encouraged, and potential applicants are strongly advised to contact their local Rural Development Service office for further information and advice."
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 25, 2003
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