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A Very Busy December

It’s December and I’m all excited about Christmas when a friend of mine decides now is the time to “enlighten” me. She starts explaining that December does not belong to the Christians as other religious groups celebrate holidays too. My response was I know — there is Hanukkah and Kwanzaa as well. This was greeted with a sigh and a shake of her head. “There are 18 different ones!” she exclaimed. So I hit the net…..

Yes, there are 18 non-Christian holidays — in fact, there are more than that, but let’s stay with the simple list you can get off Wikipedia. As I studied these various religions I discovered that most of them centre around the Solstice. There is something magical, wonderful and powerful about the shortest day of the year. The other days are important touchstones for the faith or idea.

If you follow the Unitarian Universalists, the you have a holiday that spans the first week of December — Chalica.  This a week reflecting on your Fundamental Principles. If you are Buddhist then December 8 is Bodhi Day. On this day Buddha received enlightenment. December 10 is Human Rights Day which is celebrated by many Atheists. Our Jewish brothers and sisters begin the 8 day celebration of Hanukkah on December 12. Hindus celebrate Pancha Ganapati from 21 to 25 December in honour of Lord Ganesh.

Now if you are Pagan, you calendar could be very full! Saturnalia begins on 17 December and ends on the 23rd, with a final blast on Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birth of the Unconquered Sun) on the 25th. Yule starts on the Solstice and continues for 12 days, but if you are Iranian, then Yalda is celebrating the victory of light over darkness. During Yule logs are covered in prayers and burnt, there is a Great Hunt, and much feasting and storytelling to be done! December 24 is Modraniht or “Mother’s Night”, celebrated by the Anglo-Saxons as the new year was born. The Vainakh religion of the Caucasus and Southern Ural Mountains celebrated Malkh — The Birthday of The Sun on the 25th.

Humanists also celebrate on the 23rd with Human Light Day, hoping to bring a positive approach to the New Year.  The Atheists have decided to have Newtonmas on December 25 as it is Isaac Newton’s birthday under the old Julian calendar. The Chinese celebrate Dongzhi on the Solstice by eating rice balls or dumplings and praying to the ancestors. Kwanzaa, a Pan African-American holiday was created in 1966 in the USA to celebrate a positive black identity.

Yes there is lots going on for everyone!

Some holidays are medatitive and prayerful (Bodhi Day, Hanukkah, Modraniht, Advent), while others are full of feasts (St. Lucia, Pencha Ganapati, Saturnalia, Sol Invicti and Hanukka). Some people light candles (Advent, Immaculate Conception, St. Lucia, Modraniht, Saturnalia, Hanukka, Yule) and some people give and receive gifts (St Nicolastag, St. Lucia, Pancha Ganapati, Saturnalia, Sol Invicti and Yule — Hanukka has gelt). This is truly a season of family, joy and love.

So whether you are Christian or not, December is wonderful time.  Enjoy this time and share your traditions. The more we celebrate and love, the more we have to celebrate and love! So I wish you a very happy holiday season.


A Bit of Whimsey….This Month’s Zodiac

It is tail of the month and a thought may have gone through your mind, Gentle Reader, of what could she be considering in the gap between Thanksgiving and Advent. The Answer is whimsey. So I turned to the stars…the Zodiac to be exact.

Since November 22 the zodiac turned to Sagittarius. We will be under the influence of The Archer until 22 December. After much diligent researching, I have learned lots about those of you who are Sagittarians.

Those who are born under this star sign are considered the happiest ones in the zodiac. You are probably light hearted and happy-go-lucky. This manifests itself in an adventurous spirit and an optimistic outlook on life. Because of this drive for adventure, Sagittarians can be easily sidetracked and even a bit reckless. Does this mean you want to ride Flo? You bet!

Sagittarians aren’t idiots however (even if they want to ride fast horses!). They also have a deep love of learning — about everything. Their adventurous spirit means they also need variety in their education. They are quick to draw differing ideas together which can make them both very insightful and very witty.

Other bits I’ve picked up are:
Your colour is blue.
Your Day is Thursday
Your Planetary Ruler is Jupiter
Your Lucky Numbers are 3,7,9,12,21 (ooo! lottery numbers!)
You generally like freedom, travel and being outdoors
You generally hate clingy people, contraints, off the wall theories and details (hummm, that could make Dressage difficult).
You have big energy which you will turn to your big dreams.

Now, have any of you Sagittarians looked at your sign? Yes, the short version is an arrow with a line through it, but the real symbol is that of a Centaur. The Centaur who is far sighted and looking to the future. Very romantic.

I just have a few questions…..

1) How does Centaur anatomy work? Half man-half horse. Man to the waist and horse for the rest. Or horse from neck down and man from neck up. That’s a lot of beastie no matter how you look at it. So, do Centaurs have 2 hearts? 2 stomachs? 2 sets of lungs? Is The Doctor really a Centaur and not a Time Lord/Lady?
2) Considering the body mass of a Centaur, how much food do they eat? Taking Shannon and glueing her onto Mollie, that would mean a seriously large McDonalds order. And would Shannon have to be a herbivore? Would Mollie become a carnivore — more than she already is? And don’t even start me on the Beowulf-Charlie possibility…..!
3) Do Centaur’s equine parts also include the possibility of being zebra, donkey or mule? Would that mean you would be racially identified by your equine part or your human part? And what about Shetlands? Would that mean their human part would be a dwarf? I can almost see Peter Dinklage with an equine part that looks a lot like Mini Magic. Now that would make GOT truly interesting….

I’m sorry if you think I’m being a bit odd, but it is the Libra in me showing itself by having insatiable curiosity and see both sides of the argument. That being said, those of you Sagittarians riding with us, perhaps a Thursday lesson will be ideal and don’t worry about being cold — you’re a fire sign!

Until next week, keep riding!

A Very Thankful Sunshine

This week is Thanksgiving. As you all know, I am an American lost in the depths of Bedfordshire, but I still celebrate that which I think is very important. Before we get to Christmas with all the giving and receiving, it is right and proper that we should take a moment and count our blessings. After the hardships of the last couple of years you might say, “What have you got to be thankful for? What blessings have you got?” My answer is easy. We have much to be thankful for and about the beautiful community that has formed here at Sunshine.

It is not things we need to be thankful for but people. The people who come to Sunshine Riding week in and week out, month in and month out, have provided for us support, inspiration and love. By helping the staff feel we are not alone in the battle of weather and elderly horses and the bad things that people do to animals, our Volunteers and our Clients have helped make this yard a wonderful place to be. By caring for each other and the animals (I’m including all the cats and dogs as well as the horses), real friendships have formed. Relationships between people who would never have met in other circumstances are now the social glue of Sunshine. And for that I am grateful.

And these wonderful people are not only the Staff, but also our Volunteers and Handlers who give so freely of their time and energy. They are really what makes Sunshine, Sunshine. We have our Clients from age 3 to age “Do You Really Need To Ask Me That Question?” who delight us with their wonder and love for horses. And we are thankful for the parents who don’t question the need to get out of bed at an early hour on a Saturday or Sunday to bring their children to work or ride. We aren’t perfect here at Sunshine, but all of us are giving the extra mile and for that I am so very thankful.

The Community of Sunshine has grown a lot over the last few years. We have lots of new riders and their families as well as lots of new Handlers who are leaving their mark on Sunshine. This is the security of our future. Because the Community is strong and the atmosphere is open and accepting, we are financially secure which means the very important investment into new programmes can be made which will aid us in helping and developing others. Because we are secure, we can do our part in securing the safety and protection of the environment and green spaces around Luton. Sunshine isn’t going anywhere and for that I am so very thankful.

The last thing I am grateful for is Education. Sunshine is now able to offer more than “just” riding lessons. We are now offering Apprenticeships and NVQs, GCSEs & BTecs which all go along side our long standing tradition of offering Work Experience to Secondary School pupils. Our Handlers Programme slowly, almost sneakily, builds confidence and imbues a sense of fun when it comes to work. Our practical approach to Equine Education proves that not every qualification need be purely academic. I watch young and not so young become more confident, full of promise and self belief, doing more than they ever thought they could, and I am the one who is blessed.

Yes, I have much to be thankful for but none of it would have ever been possible if it were not for the Community that surrounds us. To each of you who are in our ever growing Community, I thank you for everything and I wish you a fulfilling holiday season. I know that mine will be fantastic because it started by me knowing I have much to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!


A Brief History of Sunshine

How does one go about telling the story, the history, of what is a local landmark? For over 30 years Sunshine Riding School has been providing Luton’s children and adults with the opportunity to learn to ride horses and experience the wonders of our local hills and villages from horseback.

Sunshine Riding School started in the early 1980s in Mrs Pat Williams back garden on Ashcroft Road, Stopsley. They had 4 ponies including Nookie, a Shetland, and Jackson, 15/3 HH Thoroughbred. The riding school was renowned for giving pony rides at Warden Park as well as going to the local schools fêtes. As the school became more successful, the search for new premises began.

It was in 1989 that Pat and her husband, Nick, acquired our current site. Together they built 8 new stables, which comprise our East Stable Block today.  They worked to develop the land, erecting fencing for grazing paddocks and a jumping field. In spite of claiming that they would not have more than 4 ponies, it was obvious how popular Sunshine would be.

Sunshine was now working with Bedfordshire Police’s “Splash” programme helping young people who might slip through the cracks of the social welfare system.  This proved to be highly successful and even more of Luton began to ride. This family owned business was busy!

In the mid-1990s expansion was necessary. The horses needed some place to live as the herd was growing rapidly.  The Western Stable Block was built and a permanent, secure tack room was put in place.  A small office was created and is still standing as our Handlers’ Den. The biggest asset Sunshine made was a sand ménage for lessons and shows. Sunshine was now teaching flatwork, jumping and providing carriage drives for weddings.

As Sunshine Riding School continued to expand and provide for the people of Luton, Pat and Nick wanted to retire to their farm in Lincolnshire.  In 2006 they sold Sunshine Riding to Geoff and Debbie Lambert. Working with their daughter Emma, Sunshine continued as a family owned business.

Building on the successes of the past, Geoff and Debbie became involved with the Associated Board of Riding Schools and with the FEI’s Hoof Programme.  They had a big success with Get Back Into Riding and were able to expand the site further with 2 new buildings. Their belief that Sunshine Riding should be shared far and wide, Geoff started working with both Red Letter Experiences and Groupon.

Sunshine became the place for flatwork lessons as Geoff had the sand menage turned into a lovely rubber topped school. Improvement in the drainage meant that the school could be used year round.  Dressage became the goal and jumping took a bit of a back seat.  The Hacking Programme became huge as more and more people took the opportunity to explore Warden and Galley Hills via the 3 bridle paths at our doorstep.

It was under Geoff and Debbie’s management that Sunshine Riding faced its biggest threat.  A plan by Luton Borough Council to put a new road system in to create a by-pass from the A6 to the A505 would mean that Sunshine would cease to exist as the new road bed would go straight through our main grazing and teaching paddock. Geoff worked very hard with the wildlife and conservation groups to ensure the safety of both Sunshine Riding School and Warden & Galley Hills.  In 2012, Sunshine Riding School’s land was declared a County Wildlife Site and no further development could be done on the paddock lands.

Another family came into Sunshine’s history in 2014 when Geoff and Debbie retired.  The McGuinness family purchased the school and brought with them a different vision.

Over the last few years, buildings have been replaced and new ones added; the Jumping Programme is full on and competitive both home and away; Dressage competition is done monthly either in house, locally, or internationally; several new hacking programmes have been introduced including faux hunts for the inexperienced and the experienced.

A graduated, measurable teaching plan has been introduced which has made it possible for parents and riders to gauge their progress. There have been some new horsey hellos and some sad pony good-byes as our older horses have retired. It is a real smile maker for the staff as many of our riders are now a Sunshine Second Generation.

And everyone remembers Simon…….