‘The stable walls are full of hand-drawn thank-yous’
2007-08-09 15:00:00 -

 In the latest instalment of Metro Eireann’s Meet The Boss, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Jillian Maher, who offers riding lessons at Nuenna Farm in Co Kilkenny 

Jillian Maher was born and bred in Freshford, Kilkenny. Her family’s farm always had cattle and sheep, but horses came into the picture when Maher was eleven years old. “A cousin of mine needed to retire a horse and it was very expensive in Dublin, so it was decided that our farm would be ideal,” she says. “They brought it down and we didn’t have a clue. Myself and my friend Tom used a lead rope and a collar and we would take turns riding. We had no gear at all, only a hurling helmet.” 
Maher showed a keen interest and was sent into Kilkenny for lessons and then a pony: “I progressed to a horse and then I got into it seriously. I still only had one horse but at that stage I took a course in Thomastown and I learnt how to teach and how to break young horses. It’s a British exam, BHS, stages one, two and three and a teaching exam. Gradually, one by one, horses started to come. We started out with maybe one or two at a lesson. We built it up to what we have today.”
Maher offers lessons, summer pony camps and livery facilities at Nuenna Farm. “Some people have their own horses and wouldn’t have any land to keep them, so we offer stables,” she explains. “In the winter all the horses will be off the land and kept in the stables so there will be a lot of cleaning and mucking out. In the summer they will be on the land and my time is mostly spent teaching at the summer camps so my job is seasonal.” 
Six weeks in the summer is dedicated to summer camps. “We try not to take children until they are about seven as taking direction can be a problem: they can get muddled with left and right, but if they are very keen I will not put them off. Older children will also understand that a fall from their horse is not such a big deal and will hop back on but it’s harder for a younger child to deal with a fall. 
“Part of this business means identifying the situations where a parent is keen for the child to get into horses but the child is not. That child is difficult to teach because they really don’t want to be on that horse. They also will need a lot of leading, where a helper is holding onto the lead rope, and so that situation is more labour intensive. I do have well tuned in younger students who will sit up straight and last the hour without a bother but some need that extra attention, so age is an issue when starting horse riding. Parents really shouldn’t push it too much as they could put the child off horses completely.” 
She insists that horse riding should be considered a treat: “Once a month would be plenty for a child. It’s a waste of money for the parents if they insist on classes every week for a reluctant child. Keep it special and then they may want to come.”

Maher has one staff member who is also qualified to teach and during the busy teaching periods the farm has no shortage of helpers for leading. “Many are former students of mine who come back, they might be on holiday from college, and they love to be around horses,” she says. “They themselves had to be led at one stage and they love to help out. Even if they are down for the weekend they’ll pop in to give a hand.”

Maher loves teaching and the stable walls are full of hand drawn thank-yous from happy pupils. The downside to this business is the insurance: “Apart from having to pay business rates based on size of premises, which is dead money, the most worrying part of the business is insurance. Horse riding is risky, and animals can be unpredictable. We are very security conscious, not just because rates would rocket, but because we want the kids to be responsible and careful around the animals. Hard hats and body protectors are compulsory and we haven’t had any serious accidents, thank God.”
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