Pakefield Riding School’s Tess Hardy achieves milestone
06:00 20 April 2022
One of the region’s most beloved riders who has dedicated more than 75 years to teaching others shows no signs of slowing down as she enters her 90s.
Tess Hardy is staying as busy as ever in the tack room, talking to customers and cleaning up at Pakefield Riding School on Carlton Road.
For more than half a century, she has helped teach people with disabilities the joys of horseback riding, both in Lowestoft and nearly 5,000 miles away in Houston, Texas.
But the whole adventure, which began in the 1940s, was made possible, in part, by selling her dollhouse as a teenager.
She said: “I didn’t like school and left as soon as I could when I was 14.
“I had to do something, and I remember I went tandem with my dad to Beccles market to buy a horse and ride something with horses.
“I could afford Bonny Lass, my first horse, using the money saved from the sale of my dolls house, a small inheritance from an aunt and gardening for former Norwich City chairman Geoffrey Watling – but not the saddle or the bridle. I rode his bareback for a year.
Soon she began charging people pennies to ride her horse, and within months she found enough funds to buy another horse – and the saddles.
Strong in her entrepreneurial spirit, at the age of 16 she won a contract with the Pontins summer camp, the money earned allowing her to build an indoor school.
She said: “Things were so different when I started in the 1940s – there was definitely no health and safety.
“When I started, the war had just ended. I used to take walks on the beach along the dunes, avoiding the holes where the mines had exploded after the war.”
After securing her contract with Pontins at the age of 16, Tess and her aides would pick up clients at Pakefield camp and cycle them to Gisleham church and Pontins.
After the police stopped this when the roads got too busy, they then decided to do the walks from Pontins on the beach.
Ms Hardy first named her business Castleton Riding School after her father, Stewart Castleton Cooper who she says was always very supportive of her.
By 1948 she had acquired a few more horses and moved into the school’s current “yard”.
She met her husband John at the Royal Hotel in Lowestoft, who is also a keen equestrian, and she became one of the first people to bring Portuguese Lusitano horses to the UK, after importing the first stallion to England in 1974.
His name was Moscardo from Pinto Barreiros stud. He was a dapple dun, up at 3.2 p.m.
In 1968 she began offering horse riding sessions for the disabled, eventually leading to Ms Hardy becoming an MBE in March 2001, presented by Her Majesty The Queen.
Today, around 50 disabled children and adults participate in weekly riding sessions at the school.
“I look back on my years here and the highlight for me is seeing the benefits for disabled riders and teaching children and adults,” she said.
“I’ve seen three generations grow up, and people still come up to me and say ‘you taught my grandma’ and so on, which I will always treasure.”
She was also instrumental in creating a similarly successful Riding for the Disabled (RDA) group across the Atlantic in Houston in the 1970s.
At the time, the couple were living in the Texas town while Mr. Hardy was seconded on business, and Ms. Hardy became one of the founders of the fourth RDA group to be established in the United States, which is still going strong. today.
She said: “I took my English riding saddle with me, but this was sometimes borrowed by my American friends and I ended up with the western saddle.”
But her successes show no signs of slowing down as she turns 90 on Wednesday, April 20.
A proud moment for Ms Hardy, mother of James and Arabella and grandmother of Harriett, was when her mare Dancerina was first and her stallion Eros finished fourth out of 15 horses at the Windsor Horse Show in 2021.