Covid-19 has tragically affected many people worldwide; loss of loved ones, loss of income, jobs and businesses, loneliness, the list goes on and on. On a small island in the Mediterranean a small group of volunteers have been fighting to prevent it from affecting their best friend, the horse.
The volunteers run the Akrotiri Riding Club at RAF Akrotiri on Cyprus. The Riding Club, originally formed as Akrotiri Saddle Club in 1959, was one of the RAF’s first saddle Clubs and has twelve horses, including Diddy the miniature Shetland and his best mate Merlin.
One of the Club’s biggest concerns has always been funding, having stood on their own two feet (and four hooves) through good times and bad. But with a dynamic and forward-thinking small team over the last two years, they thought the good times were here to stay.
The Club’s eagerly anticipated monthly fundraising events included pony rides, horse and dog shows, birthday parties, raffles and even Valentine’s rides! These, alongside group or private lessons and hacks, meant the Club at long last was in a solvent position at the start of 2020.
But then Coronavirus arrived and due to the stringent rules around lockdown the horses couldn’t be ridden and all external events had to be put on hold. Only the volunteers who look after the horse’s welfare were allowed in and so any externally generated funds came to a sudden halt.
Despite not wanting to call on others to help, the team had no choice as the welfare of their twelve horses was their top priority. Their first step was to launch a Just Giving page and thanks to the military community, family, friends and RAF Akrotiri’s past and present members they were able to raise just over £1,100.
Alongside the Just Giving page the team contacted Sqn Ldr Norris from the Royal Air Force Equitation Association who approached the RAF Central Fund (RAFCF). A bid was submitted for just over €2,000 through RAFCF Grant Officer, Claire Bunten. Within a week the bid was approved, and the funds granted. The money raised plus the generous grant has given enough money to feed the horses for the next three months.
Claire says, “It is so important that our grants programme is able to support our serving personnel especially during this Covid period. Through the Akrotiri Riding Club Enrichment Grant we have been able to save one of the oldest saddle clubs in the RAF and their lovely horses. A big thank you to all those who continue to support our charity through their fundraising efforts.”
Akrotiri Riding Club can now continue to provide the station personnel, their dependants, those preparing to go to theatre and others who are just visiting with an opportunity to take part in one of the greatest sports and leisure pursuits known, and above all, enjoy the company of man’s greatest friend ‘the horse’.
FS McDonough OIC said “The team would like to thank RAF Central Fund, RAF Equitation Association, RAF Akrotiri Saddle Club Past and Present and the Akrotiri Military Community for their generosity and support. Running a welfare facility as large as the Riding Club is challenging at the best of times but during Covid-19 it was almost impossible. The concerns we faced financially put emotional strain on everyone, however with this money and of course a brilliant team the Clubs future looks positive”.
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