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ARTS & CULTURE

ALIONA ADRIANOVA

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ccording to Hyde Park Stables’ owner, Basia Briggs, horse riding is a sure-fire way to find a man. ‘Women are shown to their best advantage on horseback, that’s the way to attract men.’ Probably not so much of a concern for her celebrity clients, including Victoria’s Secret model, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, and Spice Girl, Geri Halliwell. Basia, who has owned the stables with her husband for 20 years, grew up around horses. With a Cavalry father, she has been riding for as long as she can remember, yet still insists on maintaining a high standard of dress every time she mounts a horse. ‘I always wear my best when I go out riding,’ she tells me. ‘I dress as well and as ostentatiously as I can.’ Spending an afternoon at the stables with Basia, my experience felt a little less glamorous – I thumped up and down on my saddle in jeans, riding through light January drizzle. I might have looked like Dick Turpin, sploshing through the puddles, but I nevertheless felt poised. There’s something romantic about riding through rain, a notion Basia heartily advocates. ‘I prefer riding through terrible weather,’ she says. ‘It’s all very well riding in the sunshine but lashing rain does make you feel like a more serious rider. Foul weather riding is the ‘true’ riding. You’re not just a tourist. Sometimes people ring up wanting to cancel in bad weather, but I say ‘this is England – you knew this would happen!’ It’s fun and shows you have spirit and metal. Sometimes it takes a bit of convincing…’ A day in the stables starts off bright and early at half past seven. First the horses are fed a meal of grass pellets, an apple and a sprinkling of hay. After breakfast the stables are mucked out, then the horses are groomed and prepared for their morning ride. It all sounds rather frantic bringing the stables to life, but one gets the impression there’s such an established routine that order far outweighs chaos. The horses are usually out in the park for at least two hours a day – more on the weekends – for they become anxious if they get any less. They have relatively early meal times, dinner by 6pm, but there’s always ample work to do before leaving the stables for the night. It certainly seems a long day, one that gets longer in the summer, although everyone is so devoted they clearly relish the workload. Even when they’re done for the day there might still be work to do. A state of the art monitor and camera, with four screens, constantly watches the stables and mews, allowing Basia and her husband to make sure nothing’s gone awry in the middle of the night. It’s not Big Brother, it’s motherly concern, for the stables certainly have a family feel to them. A member of staff lives above in a flat, and tears are shed by all every time a horse has to leave. Mostly sold on to clients and friends, Basia is reluctant to let them go and turnover isn’t high. After all, one must keep a stable, stable…

BASIA BRIGGS WITH BARON (ABOVE); CHILDREN PREPARING TO RIDE (BELOW); OUT IN THE PARK (LEFT)

In addition to the warm and welcoming atmosphere, the riding experience as a whole felt therapeutic, good for the soul. I don’t consider myself an outdoors-type, so I don’t think it had anything to do with the smell of the stables, the hay and the manure, despite Basia’s best efforts to convince me otherwise. It was something to do with connecting to the animal, forming a bond with a friendly beast, and getting some fresh air as well. Basia tells me she is incredibly grateful to the Olympics for helping people understand the importance of this connection. The success and sudden interest in Charlotte Dujardin, following the 2012 dressage, has undoubtedly given riding a boost and will hopefully have a long term legacy, lending (or perhaps restoring) a bit of glamour to this beloved sport. With supermodels like Edie Campbell competing in national riding tournaments, an upsurge in its popularity seems imminent. As the last privately owned stables in London, Hyde Park Stables is a rarity that one hopes will be preserved for generations to come. The existence of this cobbled, tucked away mews in the centre of our great city, reminds of a time when things were basic and good, so far away from the hecticness of our current fast paced metropolis. It feels refreshing that some are returning to this traditional pursuit and I hope many more will do too. 63 Bathurst Mews, W2, 020 7723 2813; hydeparkstables.com

‘Women are shown to their best advantage on horseback, that’s the way to attract men.’

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28/01/2013 15:09

Abs Chelsea Feb  

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