'I can't tell you how happy I am' - Delight as carriage driving resumes

Aynsley Calvert taking Ava out for a hack in the grounds of Wallington Hall.

Aynsley Calvert taking Ava out for a hack in the grounds of Wallington Hall. - Credit: Magpie Centre

A rider and carriage driver of more than 20 years could not describe his happiness to being back on horse after his riding for the disabled centre reopened.

The West Norfolk Riding for the Disabled Association (WNRDA), based at the Magpie Centre at Wallington Hall, near Downham Market, saw its first riders return in April and gradually increased its numbers by resuming carriage driving on Wednesday, May 12.

The easing of lockdown restrictions mean activities at the centre have been returning to normal for participants, staff and ponies.

Volunteers at the Magpie Centre with horse Tonto.

Volunteers at the Magpie Centre with horse Tonto. - Credit: Magpie Centre

And staff said they are looking "upward and onward" after welcoming people back. Chairman Colin Perriss said riders will once again be able to experience the significant and therapeutic benefits of interacting with horses.

Aynsley Calvert, 36, who has autism and has been riding and carriage driving at the Magpie Centre for more than 20 years, has since returned following the lifting of Covid restrictions and described the experience of being with the horses for the first time in a while as "brilliant."

The 36-year-old said: "I can’t tell you how happy I am. I rode Ava out on a hack, and then Karen and I took Tonto out for a carriage drive. It was just wonderful."

Aynsley Calvert taking Ava out for a hack in the grounds of Wallington Hall.

Aynsley Calvert taking Ava out for a hack in the grounds of Wallington Hall. - Credit: Magpie Centre

A spokesperson said: "After many months of lockdown, riders were able to return early in May, and the smiling faces said it all."

Second pilot sessions of Equine Assisted Learning Therapy (EALT), which is run in association with MIND to help people with mental health issues, took place successfully in May, and the final session of the course is scheduled for June.

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Magpie Centre volunteers also plan to visit care homes to encourage residents and their carers to participate in 'Tea with a Pony' mornings when restrictions in care homes are lifted.

These sessions allow care home residents and their carers to meet and interact with ponies and enjoy tea, cakes and a chat. The charity held an open day in October 2019 for people living with dementia.

People will also soon be able to visit the newly-constructed Sensory Garden, which is wheelchair-friendly.