Joys of free rein on day for sick children
Festina Lente centre offers horse riding as therapy to children with serious medical conditions
Joseph Buckley (7), from Finglas in Dublin, at the special day at Festina Lente in Bray, Co Wicklow, for children from Temple Street Children’s Hospital. Photograph: Eric Luke
Róisín Tansey (3), from Mayo, travels by carriage at the special day at Festina Lente in Bray, Co Wicklow, for children from Temple Street Children’s Hospital in Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke
Bubbles are floating up from behind a tree in a large Victorian walled garden. Ribbons from which coloured papers flutter are suspended from the branches. It is midsummer, not Christmas, but for the children, many of whom are regular patients of Temple Street Hospital, this is a celebration.
They are the guests of the Festina Lente riding school in Bray, Co Wicklow, and the family day activities centre on the horses and ponies.
Standing 18.2 hands high, Samson, a Shire/Clydesdale cross, is too big for any of the riders. But he is content to oversee the proceedings as his smaller colleagues, cobs and ponies, are ridden by the children.
Also present are Sponge Bob and Barney, neither of whom is brave enough to ride a pony. But Chanelle, known as Nelly, is more than brave. She is a hero. She is six years old and suffers from cerebral palsy; she is blind and has already won three certificates at her school for riding.
Her lively aunt and foster mother, Carla Greene, is as always by Nelly’s side, cheering on Devlin the chestnut pony. Carla has no fingers but it does not prevent her from urging Devlin to greater efforts.
“Nelly rides at St Joseph’s School for the Blind – she loves it. But it’s hard when the summer comes and school closes. Then there’s no riding.”
The cards and drawings hanging from the tree are wishes. It might seem likely that Nelly would ask for a pony, but that isn’t the case. “No, she just wanted the sun to come out.”
Nelly would outshine the brightest sun as she poses for the camera and a team of helpers cheer her on. Carla would love to be able to pay for riding lessons over the summer, “but it’s very expensive and I have Nelly’s brother and my son to look after. But we make the best of things, don’t we Nelly?”
Young Eanna Kelly is a handsome three-year-old who is big for his age and very funny. He has decided that his mount, Maxwell, is a suitable steed for the adventures he is intent on pursuing.
Last December Eanna contracted meningitis. It cost him his lower leg but he has already mastered his prosthetic foot. His brother Iarla is with him and feels at ease on Bella, a pretty grey pony who could have a career in the movies.
Siblings were also invited by Festina Lente for the day. Jill Carey, the chief executive of the riding school, which was founded in 1988, is committed to special needs riders and horse welfare, yet still operates from a rented premises.