The Ceylon Riding Club: Dr Ineke Ann Pitts venture enhances equestrianism in Sri Lanka

Apr 29 2024.

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Dr. Ineke Pitts, an International Management Consultant, Business Owner & Entrepreneur has a deep-rooted passion for both horses and Sri Lanka. Her decision to move to Sri Lanka after falling in love with the country during a holiday in 1996  speaks volumes about her adventurous spirit and determination to seek new opportunities. Opening the Ceylon Riding Club in 2017 was not only a business venture but also a way for her to reconnect with her childhood love for horses and provide others with similar experiences.

Now, with the opening of new stables at the Port City, Dr. Pitts has taken a bold step forward. The Port City location offers a more centralized and accessible venue for equestrian enthusiasts, potentially attracting a wider audience interested in horse riding and related sports. It’s evident that Dr. Pitts is willing to take risks and explore new avenues to expand her passion for horses and share it with others. The new stables at the Port City are not just about providing a space for horse riding; they represent a hub for equestrian sports enthusiasts to come together, learn, and participate in various activities related to horses. Dr. Pitt’s initiative is not only about business but also about fostering a community centred around a shared love for horses and equestrianism. She is determined to make this venture a success and contribute to the equestrian culture in Sri Lanka.

Q WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO  SRI LANKA? I first visited Sri Lanka in 1996 for a holiday – I was working in Hong Kong at the time, on the Airport Project with architect Sir Norman Foster. I was captivated by the charm of the country and its people and moved here in 1997 to explore business opportunities.

Q WHEN DID YOUR AFFINITY FOR HORSES COME ABOUT? I grew up in a part of rural England called ‘The New Forest’, a National Park with hundreds of acres of open countryside and wild ponies. I was 10 when my mother took me for my first riding lesson at the local riding school. I became hooked. I was a pony-mad kid and learned everything possible about horses and ponies. My love of horses has endured and even when work took me overseas, I would ride or hang out with horses at every opportunity.

Q HOW LONG HAS YOUR RIDING CLUB BEEN ESTABLISHED, AND WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO CREATE IT? I set up Ceylon Riding Club officially in 2017 in Piliyandala together with my then business partner Swasha Malalasekera. But even before this, I kept a few horses and ponies at my home in Hokandara. I guess it might have appeared to be a mid-life crisis, but for me, it was a lifeline. My horses gave me a sense of home and something to look forward to during a time when I was travelling extensively, often to inhospitable places as an international development professional. When I set up the Ceylon Riding Club, I had a strong sense of re-creating the experience I had as a child and making it accessible to children in Sri Lanka.

Q WHAT TYPES OF RIDING DISCIPLINES DOES YOUR CLUB FOCUS ON? We focus on classical English riding skills including leisure riding, dressage and showjumping. Mostly we want to assure that people learn to ride horses properly so that both the horse and the rider are enjoying the experience and building a strong connection with one another.

Q CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THE FACILITIES AND AMENITIES AVAILABLE FOR RIDERS AND THEIR HORSES? At our new stables in Port City, we have a 3.5-acre Park with three riding arenas, one of which is a full-size show jumping arena, an indoor arena and a round pen for horse training. We also have a dedicated riding trail, a large barn with 8 stables, changing rooms and a coffee shop. In the near future, we will have additional stables where people can keep private horses, and we will be opening a members’ club and restaurant.

Q WHAT SAFETY MEASURES DO YOU HAVE IN PLACE FOR RIDERS AND HORSES? Education, animal welfare, health and safety are at the heart of everything we do. We follow British Horse Society protocols which assure the safety of our riders and our horses by proper handling, proper training methods and by assuring that riders wear appropriate equipment and follow instructions. All our staff are trained to handle the horses and riders professionally and all our horses and ponies are exercised and trained by professionals.

Q ARE THERE OPPORTUNITIES  FOR RIDERS OF DIFFERENT SKILL LEVELS, FROM BEGINNERS TO ADVANCED? Many of our riders are beginners when they first come to us but as they progress they can get certificates in skills such as stables management and horsemanship and learn advanced disciplines such as dressage and showjumping.

Q DO YOU OFFER TRAINING PROGRAMMES OR CLINICS FOR RIDERS LOOKING TO IMPROVE THEIR SKILLS? Yes, we do. We have a senior coach capable of training even advanced riders and we are getting an increasing number of international riders coming to us for coaching when they hear about us. In future, we plan to hold more events and clinics for riders at all levels to improve their skills. We have a wide network of international professionals willing to support us in organizing regional clinics or residential courses and programmes to attract equestrians from overseas.

Q HOW DO YOU ENSURE THE WELL-BEING AND HEALTH OF THE HORSES IN YOUR CARE? The health and happiness of our horses is paramount.  They live as a herd and have plenty of space to run and interact with one another which is really important for their psychological wellbeing. We adhere to strict rules about the number of hours they work, the weight they carry and the kind of work they do. Keeping a horse in Sri Lanka is a major undertaking as they require high levels of specialized knowledge and care. We work closely with equine vets in Sri Lanka and overseas to keep our knowledge current and we observe our horses closely to spot changes in their behaviour which might indicate a health issue.

Q ARE THERE REGULAR EVENTS OR COMPETITIONS HELD AT  THE CLUB? So far we have run six horse shows at Port City for the members, but our last one on 31st March was the biggest yet with around 30 riders and 350 guests. We also hold a monthly Sunday Funday, which is a half-day of activities for kids. In future, we will be holding events at the club much more frequently. These are likely to include, school holiday activities and a regular Sunday Brunch Club with live music for the whole family to enjoy.

Q CAN RIDERS BOARD THEIR HORSES AT YOUR FACILITY, AND IF SO, WHAT SERVICES DO YOU OFFER FOR BOARDERS? We will definitely be expanding our facilities to include stables for the privately owned horses of our members. There will be a limited number of places available on both full and working livery basis. Interested parties should come and speak to us as early as possible. We expect a high demand for people wishing to own their own horses and keep them at Port City.

Q HOW DO YOU FOSTER A SENSE OF COMMUNITY AMONG CLUB MEMBERS? Many of our member families have been with us throughout our journey and have become close personal friends as well as clients. They recommend us to their friends and family and our community has expanded largely organically. On a weekend morning, the coffee shop is a quiet refuge for mums and dads to meet and chat over a cup of coffee. To be honest, horses and ponies bring people together from all walks of life, ages, abilities and cultural backgrounds. There is something about hanging out at the stables that is intensely therapeutic in nature and we try to maintain that positive vibe.

Q WHY IS IT IMPORTANT  FOR YOU TO ENSURE THERE IS A CEYLON RIDING CLUB? I set up our small riding club during some of the most challenging years in this country’s recent history. More than just about horses, this project has become a beacon of light, of hope and a story of triumph over adversity. With the support of CHEC, we have established a green oasis in the heart of what will one day be a thriving metropolis. It has shifted the energy of what was once a barren landscape and created a haven and a green lung in what will become a thriving international commercial hub.  Historically Port Cities are places where the movement of goods, people, information and ideas must change gear – they are gateways into the global business community and bridgeheads from which global players interact with the Sri Lankan interior. They are by nature places of exchange; places of high cultural ambiguity and tolerance. Ceylon Riding Club is the first of a new generation of social spaces in which a diverse cross-cultural community is being established.  This is a place where people from many different nationalities and diverse interests come to just be. The energy of the horses is a nurturing and therapeutic one, and not just for the riders. Horses invite you to be present, to switch off your mobile phone and stay awhile.

Pix courtesy CRC


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tina Edward Gunawardhana

Tina Edward Gunawardhana is a journalist specialising in travel, fashion, lifestyle, cuisine and personalities. She is also the Deputy Editor for Hi!! Magazine. An intrepid traveller, she likes to show readers the world through her eyes and experiences. Follow her on Facebook,¬†Twitter and Instagram - tinajourno [email protected]

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