Dublin council seeks to mend fences with opening of equine centre

Council hopes Clondalkin centre will mark ‘fresh start’ in relations with horse owners


South Dublin County Council, which has held the record among the capital’s authorities for seizing and destroying the greatest number of roaming horses, will open new purpose-built stables for the horses of young owners on Thursday.

It is hoped the Clondalkin Equine Centre will mark a “fresh start” in relations between young horse-lovers in the area and the council – which have been antagonistic.

Since 2012, the council has seized 1,668 horses and ponies, of which 1,458 were euthanised – at a cumulative cost of €912,000. This has caused huge distress and anger among local young people, though the council has had to contend with repeated reports of horses neglected, malnourished and kept on unsuitable land.

While the council pointed to land-management and animal welfare, horse owners felt demonised and ignored. They argued that if they had suitable facilities they could care properly for their horses.

Equine club

Clondalkin Equine Club, established more than four years ago, has been campaigning for a home where horses could be kept safely and young people could learn about them.

“At first the council wouldn’t even answer our calls,” says Derek Denton, chair of the club. “But they started to listen, to engage, and once they saw the commitment of the kids and their capacity to care for them they backed us.”

The club met “every Tuesday without fail” over the years. They identified a piece of land they thought suitable, but couldn’t get planning permission.

“That was a huge disappointment,” says Gino Kenny, who co-founded the club and supported it as a People Before Profit councillor and, since 2016, as a TD. “But we all stuck with it.”

The council eventually provided a three-acre site while the Department of Agriculture put up €500,000 for construction.

On Thursday, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and mayor of South Dublin County Council Guss O’Connell will open 20 new stables, two paddocks, an exercise yard and a meeting room-cum-classroom. It will be run by the club, with input from the council and local youth services.

More than 40 local children and teenagers applied for a place in the facility. Following interviews, 20 boys and girls aged between 10 and 19 were selected. All are completing a five-week course in horse care.

The council will not be funding ongoing costs, so the club will have to fundraise and seek sponsorship. UCD has agreed to provide veterinary services.

Lauren Joyce (14) has a red-and-white mare, Twiggy. She used to keep her in a stable, with a yard costing her €50 a week.

“She means a lot to me,” says Lauren. “She’s very calm and that makes me calm. She is like my best friend. I trust her and she’s beautiful.”

Nathan Kane (15) has a two-year-old gelding named Flash, who used to on land 40km away in Co Wicklow. “I’d worry about him because I couldn’t go and see him every day. I can come up here after school every day now, muck him out and let him run for an hour or so. You can see his eyes look happier already. His head is up.”

Mr Kenny is “delighted” to see the club opening. “You cannot overstate how important this is for these kids. Some are dealing with real challenges in their lives. Horses are very therapeutic, as well as being a great interest and pastime.

“I had always asked, why should wealthy children be allowed to keep horses and not working class kids?”