In the next part of our series of interviews designed to introduce BHS Oxfordshire members to their local committee, we meet Penny Holley, Publicity Officer and Vice Chairman…
Name: Penny Holley
Lives: Kidmore End, South Oxfordshire
Age (a ballpark, please!): 60s
Family: Husband, two children, two step-children and two grandchildren
Occupation: I founded Phipps Public Relations, a London-based company which was sold in 2003. I now run a holiday rental business in the UK and Spain, and look after five horses at home.
Tell us about… your first pony: Aged 11 I was taught to ride in the "hands down and grip with your knees" style by a rather strict riding school teacher called Miss Mason. I would save up for lessons, but the best fun was falling off - something I do anything to avoid nowadays. As an adult I saved up some more and bought my first horse when I was 45. I was far too hold to stop gripping and tipping forward, and he was a 6 year old 16.3hh Irish thoroughbred, so we had some interesting times! He died only last year.
… the first fall you can remember: I'm not sure about the first fall, but my most embarrassing was quite recently, off of an eventer I was exercising. He was only walking and I wasn't paying attention!
… the first rosette you remember winning: At the Croft Equestrian Centre this year. It was my first dressage test, and having had so much practise and so many lessons for this five minutes of fame I just did not dare fail or forget anything. I was so happy when it was all over!
… your horsey highlight: Riding holidays with my daughters and husband Tim are magical. We love to make a journey and for my 50th birthday we went to Ecuador and rode 150miles through countryside and cloud forest. It was unbelievable! The trip also introduced us to the Peruvian Paso breed, and Tim now has one he rides in the UK. They have the most fantastic partnership and, following two hip replacements, this is the only horse Tim can comfortably ride in trot. Tim would dearly love to act the part and swoop along in a Peruvian cloak and sombrero if we would let him.
… your most embarrassing horsey moment:Tim riding in a cloak and sombrero would be pretty embarrassing but, until then, here's a cautionary tale of embarrassment. I love following eventing, and was cheering on my cousin enthusiastically one day. I had no idea it is against the rules to communicate with competitors ("outside assistance") and my forthright vocal encouragement nearly got her eliminated! I am now the most silent of spectators.
… your current horse(s): Gulliver, a 16.3hh chestnut Irish Sports Horse bought in Ireland as a two year old project horse to bring on and sell. As we all know, that never happens - Gulliver is now 11 and here to stay. He evented up to Novice with my cousin and is now back with me. I have another project now, a five year old ISH called Morse who is going to be a superstar. I'm lucky to have help from Lou Austin who has a far more realistic view of matters.
Do you compete? What is your preferred discipline? I am undisciplined and hopeless. My only salvation is to have lessons with the marvelous Terrie Cross, who has made me improve my riding and improve my horse, and taken me out in her wonderful purple lorry to competitions. Highly recommended!
What’s your favourite horsey activity? The horses live out 24/7 as this level of neglect allows me to keep them at home without any help. I am spared a lot of the stable work and Tim manages the fields, so this is horsey heaven. Helping the project horses improve and grow in confidence is my favourite activity. I much enjoyed the Kelly Marks Intelligent Horsemanship training. I have always tried to let the horses live as natural a life as possible and can bore for Britain on the subject.
What’s your equine ambition? I am lacking in ambition and terrified even spectating. I would like to do more to encourage people 'my age' to try riding again and being around horses. When I bought my first horse and took him to his London livery yard, I asked the owner how long it would take me to learn to ride. I thought she would say something like six weeks, instead she said 12 years. She was completely right, in fact I never stop learning and being fascinated by these very beautiful, special, kind animals. So my ambition is to keep owning a horse and riding in to very, very old age - and encouraging others through all the good work that the BHS does.
Tell us about your involvement with the BHS… what is your role on the committee? I am the publicity officer and deputy chairman.
How long have you been on the committee, and how long in this role? I think I've been on the committee four years, but it's such a good group of people I have lost count.
How did you get involved with the BHS? I saw they needed a press officer and I thought this was something I could do because of my background in PR. I have found that the best way to get coverage is to organise events with the best, most high profile riders and teachers we can find.
What’s your favourite part of the role? I loved organising the events with Mary King, the Monty Roberts and Kelly Marks talk, and the recent meeting with K C LaPierre, which was amazingly popular for a talk about horse feet. But I very much enjoy the companionship of the committee. Members are very supportive and never mind any kind of remark or suggestion from someone like me who has no formal horse training at all. Our chair, Troth Wells, is wonderful and so well organised, and so meetings are a pleasure.
What are your plans for the year ahead? I am getting to grips with Twitter, as I have just found the "discover" button. I am hoping that Morse progresses with his training and I know I will be nagged in to another dressage competition. I often represent Oxfordshire at the South Region meetings, and would like to help organise one really exciting event for the whole region to attend. Also, before the end of 2015 I want to ride my horse from Hay on Wye to the Welsh coast and I am starting the research now. I love the idea of making a journey on horseback to discover some of our wonderful British routes.
Thanks Penny! Next time, we meet another member of the Oxfordshire committee.