Christmas means different things to different people. For some, it’s about entertaining family, friends and relatives, for others in foodservice it can be their busiest time for year in the kitchen, or in some cases it can sadly mean loneliness. But, the one thing that’s true for all that it gives us an opportunity to reflect. They say the greatest gift you can give someone is your time, so off the back of a successful #JBC12Days of Giving last year, naturally it only seemed right to do it all again for 2019. This year I already knew I wanted to give my time to a charity I was passionate about. With a 15-year equestrian background myself (mum says I was horse riding before I was walking!), I was lucky enough to come across Windsor Horse Rangers, and my decision was made.

It is part of the registered charity, The Horse Rangers Association which was founded in 1954 in Hampton Court. It was built to help transform the lives of disadvantaged children between the ages of 8 -18, from all backgrounds and abilities. It was formed to show the experience and life-changing effect horses can have. The Windsor Horse Rangers were then officially formed in 1972, fast forward to 2002 where they became their own company, a non-profit organisation who rely solely on fundraising and monthly donations to help support their yard facilities.

At Windsor Horse Rangers they have a total of 25 horses (old timer Barny who has been there for an impressive 26 years) and 16.5 acers of land. The children attend at the weekends and the association is organised into four different companies. Squadron leaders are known as ‘Rangers’ and run two main sessions; mornings for children aged between 10 to18 years old and afternoon sessions for 8 to 10-year olds. During this time the children can learn all the necessary foundations of the Horse Rangers to help work their way up the ranks. The children learn theory in the on-site classrooms and practical skills involving; catching, grooming, mucking out and tacking-up the horses. Following a syllabus which has been specially tailor made, the programme works to help develop key skills though the equine world and it gets progressively more challenging with experience and further training. As the children progress, they receive badges to mark their achievements. It was amazing to hear stories of how some had gone on to work with horses, utilising the skills Windsor Horse Rangers have given to them.

After a brief introduction with Sue and the team (horses, dogs and cats included) it was time to get to work. My first job of the day was helping to muck out the stables, I always remember being told the key was to make it as if you would want to sleep in it (not literally). Admittedly, my skills were rusty, but with my chosen tools, I mucked, picked and sifted my way around the stables. Depositing any you-know-what in the wheelbarrow as I went and giving the stable a fresh layer of bedding where needed. I washed and refilled the water buckets and hung the hay nets (shout out to Georgia for reminding me how it’s done) and walked away with the peace of mind in knowing that I’d done a pretty good job. I got rid of my full wheelbarrow on the muck pile and swept away anything I’d dropped along the way. Next, I was tasked with washing out all the morning feed bowls; scrubbing brush in hand; I rinsed and soaked them, so they were ready for the afternoon feed. As I sit here writing this blog, nursing my aching arm, it reminded me that yard work is by no means easy. My 10-year-old self would be laughing at me, but it’s physically demanding stuff at the ripe old age of 28!

As I walked away from a morning well spent and the nostalgia hit, I never thought it would’ve struck such a cord with me. Mostly what I learnt from my short visit to Windsor Horse Rangers is how important it is for the children to have a safe support network. They learn so much more than just horsemanship skills, it’s all about teamwork, taking responsibility, learning and striving to achieve and of course making friends. It provides the most wonderful moments for them. They feel a part of something important, they can forget what’s happening in the outside world and be a part of something that truly matters, often making lifelong friends along the way and sometimes setting a course for their future career.

Horses are gentle giants, who can at times be misunderstood. They are patient, kind, willing animals who can show the children that anything is possible. Add a sprinkle of confidence, and they can transform lives.

Throughout the year, the Windsor Horse Rangers run major fundraising projects and attend local events for a small contribution. They also have ongoing support from the local community including a clothes recycling bin on-site. They are a part of the Co-Op fund (they receive 1% profit of items brought in local stores) and are also part of Amazon Smile, where they will receive 0.5% of anything bought. Windsor Horse Rangers are changing lives one horse at a time and one child at a time and have a waiting list of over 650 names. They are in desperate need of more volunteers to help supervise the children – if you know of anyone, please pass the message on and spread the word!

Windsor Horse Rangers are currently fundraising for their latest major project, a new tack room /tractor shed, and they have a target of £110,000. To help them reach it, please donate what you can: