FORTY years ago this month Kilnsey Trekking & Riding Centre harnessed up and opened its gates to help the public enjoy a day in the saddle in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales.

The ruby anniversary is being celebrated with a party on Sunday, May 19.

As far back as 1979 farmers were looking for ways to add to their income and Anthony and Vanessa Roberts had the bright idea of giving holiday makers something different to do in the Dales, other than the usual walks and climbs.

Family friend, Terry Parker, heard of a trekking centre closing down in Wales and after a site visit with Vanessa’s sister, Jane Thomson.

The ponies came north, as a job lot along with all the associated paraphernalia of saddles, bridles and grooming tools. Wearing a riding helmet was optional in those days.

The ponies arrived, travelling loose in a huge livestock wagon and as they galloped down the ramp and into the barn Vanessa admitted to wondering what on Earth she had let herself in for.

“The business built up gradually, of course there were moments best swept under the carpet, such as the day a group of foreign visitors arrived for a trek,” explained Jane, who is the trekking centre manager..

“They didn’t speak an awful lot of English and neither of the trek escorts spoke Italian. When the ponies were unexpectedly spooked on the ride and broke into a trot, the riders could not understand the exhortations of the ride leaders to “sit back” and “pull on the reins” leading to a fairly brisk canter around the field with riders strewn in the wake of the fleeing ponies. There were no injuries and once ponies were recaptured and riders remounted, the ride continued, I am told, without incident.

“We did a good deal of work with the Youth Hostel Association, Graham Chamberlain from Kettlewell Youth Hostel hosted our guests and we took them riding. A week-long expedition was very popular for the adventurous adult riders, stopping overnight at Horton-in-Ribblesdale, Stainforth and Austwick to name just a few of our regular routes. The children were not forgotten and they did a week based at Kettlewell riding every day, swimming in the river, and barbecues and a final day gymkhana to end the week.

“We still do variations of these activities now, although our trail rides tend to be more of a weekend break and the children’s holidays are no longer residential but certainly no less fun.

“A lot of our custom now is holidaymakers and locals who want to have a first experience of riding on a pony in safe and beautiful surroundings, and we can definitely say that we have kickstarted many young riders careers. There are many heart-warming tales of riders who have gone on to great things in the horse world who actually started out on a slow, shaggy pony at Kilnsey Trekking Centre.

“One little girl came on a river ride one Monday morning and loved it so much she pestered her parents to bring her back every day for the whole week. She went home and started lessons and came back the next year and subsequent years, gaining in ability until the year she came and told us she now had her own pony, which was a lovely thing to hear.

“We are not sure the parents may think this when they are sitting in a wet field watching their offspring bump up and down on a pony’s back, and have endless early starts for special horsey occasions.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of the job is when we take out school groups, many of which come to us through the Country Trust charity which provides outdoor experiences for town-based schools and groups, enriching the lives of, sometimes disadvantaged, children who take away so much from their visits. For many it is the first time they have seen a large animal close up and to have the chance to touch and ride on a horse is an unforgettable experience, which the staff report, is talked about by the participants for months afterwards.”

Former members of staff plan to attend the celebrations, along with customers, past and present.

There will be picture boards, and video clips, and chance to meet the ponies and staff who are currently ‘in residence’.

The centre will also be running some special ‘River Ride’ days throughout the summer where you can ride at the price of the original River Ride – just £4.50.

Anyone wishing to attend the anniversary celebrations should email: or ring us on 01756 75286.

Any old photos of the ponies will be gratefully received to add to the nostalgia. These too can be emailed to the above address.