Tag Archives: Sunshine Staff

Staff Chat With Maisie Fleckney

Our newest Teacher at Sunshine is Maisie Fleckney. She joined us in October of 2020 and has become an integral part of the staff. Maisie was born in Luton in October of 2000. As a teenager she attended Ickneild High School before moving on to make animals her life.

Like Beowulf, this was not a difficult decision as Maisie has been surrounded by dogs, cats and birds her whole life. The family collie, Nessie, welcomed Maisie when she came home from the hospital as an infant, and Lucy and Jessie, the family cats, soon followed. Maisie’s dad kept an aviary which was home to Coco the African Grey parrot and Frodo, a Conure parrot, as well as rehabilitating 3 tawny owls which were set free back into the wild. Currently Maisie has 3 cats: Merlin, Lucy and Otis (who may have a touch of the OCDs as he must bathe the other 2 cats every day!); 2 white Huskies Luna and Zara, and a hamster named Holly.

Riding in the USA

Maisie has ridden not only in England, but in the USA, Australia, Canada. She says she finds Western style easier because it has “that great big pommel to grab on to”. I did agree, but told her it wasn’t a handle. Maisie laughed and pointed out that it made it harder to fall off. I did have to agree with that too.

I met up with Maisie early in the week and asked her the same questions I asked Beowulf.

How old were you when you started riding?

About 7. No, maybe 8 I think. I really don’t remember. What I do remember is that I started at Sunshine, so it’s all come full circle.

Maisie & Mitzie at Sunshine Riding

Why did you start riding?

I was a horse crazed girl who wanted to be a unicorn. I do have pictures [she does]. I was always a bit different in school and I just liked doing something different. Not everyone rode horses.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Gaining confidence as I know I can but just going and doing it as well.

What has been your easiest challenge?

Jumping. I love jumping. I was doing really okay and then Covid came and now it feels like it is out the window. But I will be back. I want to do the Accumulator Cup this year so I will be jumping.

What is your favourite discipline?

Jumping. I like dressage but cross-country looks interesting. I did say I was planning on doing the Accumulator, so I need to get my jumping confident because the cross-country is going to be a real challenge.

Riding Down Under in Australia

What is your least favourite discipline?

I like them all collectively, but if I have to – it’s flatwork.

Who has been your favourite teacher and why?

Actually it you [Kimberly McGuinness]. You taught me most especially with developing the confidence. And when I fell off Paddy, you were able to help me get my confidence back. You tell me to get on with it and that is just what I need.

Paddy and his field.

Paddy is a 16 hander that Maisie worked with during the spring and summer. They were riding in a field when Paddy was spooked. He spun and bolted which threw Maisie. She ended up going to hospital, but she was fine except for a black eye and the usual bumps and bruises from a bad fall. She was very frightened when she came to ride Stan, but in a few lessons she was back to being herself and knowing she was boss of the horse, not the other way around.

Who is your Riding Hero? Why?

Ben Atkinson. He puts the effort in. He has natural horsemanship, not just a show off. He inspired me to work with horses. I’d really like to meet him someday.

Riding Paddy

What is your riding dream?

To be able to event. Until I came back here earlier in the year I hadn’t really thought about it, but now to go to a One Day Event is my goal. I’ve also not had my own personal horse, so this will be the challenge also. I gotta get Dora to do it.

Who is your favourite horse and why?

Dora. She helped me gain confidence. Dora got me back on a horse after the bad fall from Paddy. I trust her.

Reading their score sheet from dressage

Why did you go into teaching?

It is something I could. I really enjoy it and can do it. I really like working with the kids. To watch them blossom is so rewarding. Being able to watch to watch them grow and develop and do really well and I know I helped.

What is the one job you hate?

Washing the feed buckets in the cold. Oh, and the muck runs. Once or twice is fine, but 5 time on my own is a bit much. [I agree]

What is the hardest thing you’ve taught?

That is getting the kids to let go of the saddle but not grip with the knee in a trot. The more you grip with the knee and not the leg, the more you bounce. Bouncing kids is scary.

What is the easiest?

Rising trot. It’s visual so they can see what they’re doing and they can follow me shouting out, “Up! Down! Up! Down!”. By the end of the lesson they have a good idea of what it is. Just need to remember it for the next week.

What do you think you still have to learn?

A lot. I need to be able to talk to different ages of riders. I need to be able to talk to them and not overwhelm them. We have a lot of different age ranges here and to get them to do it, but not get angry or upset when they can’t. Confidence is just so important.

As Maisie and I went our separate ways, I was pleased that she was so happy to be at Sunshine Riding. Her drive to be a better teacher and a better rider will mean that her lessons will also be filled with the right challenges to create the best riders. We look forward to seeing what she will be able to teach, do and refine with Dora, who Maisie already has doing cavaletties. That ODE may not be as far away as Maisie thinks.

Staff chat with Beowulf McGuinness

Sunshine Riding School has a lot of different kinds of teachers so that we can meet the needs of different kinds of people. Just meeting Beowulf will tell you in seconds that you have just met a different kind of person. Beowulf has many different types of qualities that make him ideal to be a Sunshine Teacher.

Beowulf was born in January 1999 here in Luton. He was born nearly 6 weeks early but due to his size, he was never really considered a “premie”. His love for food, life and adventure was evident from very early on. Born into a household of cats, dogs, and an animal mad mother, it was not a big surprise that he has made horses his life. I had a chance to meet up with him earlier this week, and asked him some very pointed questions about his life, his goals, and is drive to teach.

How old were you when you started riding?

Six I think. (It was.) And my first horse was Sky, a 12 HH bay pony.

Beowulf & Sky

Why did you start riding?

Because I didn’t want to do ballet. I had coordination issues and my school [Hillborough Infant & Junior] thought that ballet would help solve them.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Learning which way left was.

Beowulf recounted to me the story of riding at Greenacres in Harpenden with James Miller. Beowulf was on Brefney, a 13 HH pony, cantering down the centre line when he was told to turn left at the bottom. Beowulf dropped his reins and held his hands up to see which one made the ‘L’ so he could turn that way. Apparently his teacher was unimpressed by this and was yelling for Beowulf to pick up his reins again. Beowulf proudly smiled and said, “I did turn left safely.” After that his mother put a red elastic band on his left hand so he would not drop his reins like that again.

Beowulf’s 1st Show, Age 8

What has been your easiest challenge?

Jumping. Jumping anything. I was biting on the bit as it were to start jumping, and I was told I had to wait “3 weeks”. Each week I would ask James if I could start jumping and he would say no. One day he just gave up and said ‘fine. Let’s do it.’. So I jumped and he said I was to keep on jumping as I really could jump.

What is your favourite discipline?

Eventing. You need to do all 3 disciplines. It’s a complete sport – not just feet on the ground or being a daredevil. It makes you and your horse a full athlete.

Wulf age 13 eventing with Charlie

Beowulf started competing in Show Jumping at 8, Dressage at 10, Cross Country at 11, and won his first one day event at 12.

Beowulf age 12 with Charlie

What is your least favourite discipline?

Dressage. It’s too mimsie. Serious though, it’s a lot of finesse and that where I struggle. It’s a subtle sport and if you don’t know what you are doing then it doesn’t develop properly. Also, most people laugh at it because it doesn’t seem as exciting as jumping.

Who is your favourite teacher?

Charlie and Hilary Carrel of Colts Unlimited, Sheridan Wyoming. They really explained the nuts and bolts of jumping and not just pointing me at a cross pole on the ¾ line. Charlie explained to me how to ride a course and what I should be doing at each point.

Charlie and Hilary Carrel have been World Champions of American Quarter Horse Association as well as Reserved Champions. They can be found on www.coltsunlimited.com.

Charlie Carrel working with Beowulf on Seamus, 2013

Who is your Riding Hero?

I don’t really know if I have one. On a push I would say Charlie Carrell or Jock Paget. William Fox-Pitt had money and connections when he started. I like those who come up on their own.

What is your dream?

I’d like to do 5* eventing or The Olympics or both. Burghley Horse Trials is the goal as it is the hardest.

Wulf and Scorch

Who is your favourite horse?

I have a list: Charlie – my first horse; Tango – my current horse; and I’m A Scorcher. Charlie taught me to jump on Scorch and I really loved that horse.

Why did you decide to teach?

To be honest – money. This sport is expensive. Also teaching hones my skills and I find it rewarding to grow and build someone from a nervous rider to a competent one. I work with ‘Spectrum Kids’ (children with autism, ADD, ADHD, and other educational, emotional or physical needs) because I’m good at it. I’m quiet and calm and I can adjust as needed to give them the experience they need. No two SEN riders are the same.

What job do you hate?

When I have to manage the yard, it is mitigating arguments. People just need to be reasonable. It’s when the fights and gripping begin that I want to quit.

What is the hardest thing you have taught?

Diagonals. People just don’t get them. I don’t get them and when I do, it’s only 30% of the time.

What is the easiest thing you have taught?

Jumping. Low jumps where you are getting the rider over their first few. It’s really rewarding and they are so happy.

What do you still have to learn?

Diagonals. No further comment. That’s why I do sitting trot in dressage.

Wulf and Tango (also known as Chestnut Colt 13)

Beowulf is young and driven. At 22 years old he still dreams big and is intent on making those dreams come true. He has plans to teach and create a once-in-a-lifetime eventer with the foal June Storm. Beowulf believes that June will be ready to seriously complete just about the time Tango is ready to retire in 8 years. It is clear that no matter where or what Beowulf does, jumping horses will be part of it.