The Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery are already in residence. You can tell a Kings Troop horse because of a decidedly superior air. They barely deign to look out from stables when visitors stroll past. A Polo mint, a horse’s favourite treat, gets a disdainful sniff or a grudging crunch “we are only doing this to be polite.”
Indeed, you wouldn’t take them for the same lot who were chaffing at the bit a few hours earlier ears pricked up and waiting for their annual treat a canter and gallop on Blackpool beach, the big break after months of ceremonial duties for all the Kings horses - and all the Kings men!
In marked contrast the usual residents of Penny Farm are hanging out in the hope of a making a mint on the eve of open day. Anyone for Polo? Yes please! Event officer Zoe Clifford, former nightclub promoter, says there’s a definite air of anticipation about the place. “It’s as if they know tomorrow’s rather special. It’s certainly the highlight of my year.”
Tomorrow is open day at Penny Farm World Horse Welfare’s Preston New Road, Blackpool/Westby base and it’s the big one, the 10th anniversary of a charity which has saved hundreds of horses from misery, neglect, abandonment and rehomed hundreds more as riding or companion horses.
Penny Farm last night learned it had been highly commended in the Lancashire and Blackpool Tourist Board’s “access for all” award - pipped to the post only by Sandcastle Waterpark in Blackpool.
But the real stars are the horses. There are usually 70 at any given time, including rescue cases, horses abandoned, neglected, malnourished, their hooves horribly overgrown, hides covered in sores or developing a condition that comes from eating over rich grass.
Welfare cases outnumber horses brought here because of a change in owners’ circumstances – illness, accident, divorce, redundancy. There are others near killed with kindness, eating far too much, not exercising nearly enough.
All too many horses are too far gone to make it to this happy rehabilitation home for horses. Ask former North West operations field officer Chris Williamson who can look at any one and recount their life story.
“I am constantly astounded by a horse’s ability to recover,” he admits. “That is down to the care they receive here. The staff are marvellous with these animals. They can turn them round in six months, teach them to trust again. It’s immensely worthwhile.”
Paradoxically, he’s just retired as wife Fran, a fellow former mounted police officer, has returned to full time work, as manager of Penny Farm. Like Chris she’s passionate about the work here. “It’s a dream come true for me,” she admits. “I have to keep pinching myself to make sure it’s real.”
While some receive care, or are in the recovery paddock, others are being put through their paces by grooms for tomorrow’s “Glee” performance, one of the highlights along with the Kings Troop RHA set to impress with gun carriages.
One moving moment comes when Rocky II, a piebald who could barely stand when he arrived, trots to the fore. Chris recalls how staff had to hoist the horse up each day as part of his recovery. Now he’s become a firm favourite with visitors to Penny Farm.
Some horses come on legacy to safeguard their future. Others are handed over, even after they have gone out to a new home, on loan, because of a change in owners’ circumstances, or their own health.
“I don’t think people appreciate just what’s involved,” says Fran. “At times such as this the big fear is that more people will no longer be able to afford to look after their horses.
“The majority here are abuse and neglect cases. We try to rehabilitate and rehome those that we can. Some will never be ridden. We’ve had little Welsh wild horses brought in - from a case still going through the legal system. And we had a lot from Cumbria last year.
“Penny, the ex-Kings Troop horse, still lives here but she was a desperate case originally, nursed back to full health and able to join the Kings Troop before returning to us. Several Kings Troop horses have joined us as escort horses. Like the police horses they have quite a long working life - around 15-16 years - and have great temperaments and rock solid when it comes to being around other horses and teaching them road sense.
“It’s a joy to see and I hope people do just that tomorrow. For all the good work that has gone on here for 10 years some locals don’t realise we exist. We hope to reach them with our open day- along with others who help us continue the good work.”