The motto Festina Lente (hasten slowly) reflects the ethos of an equestrian college that provides person-centred opportunities for work-training and self-development in a unique environment writes Jill Carey, Principal, Festina Lente Equestrian College, Old Connaught Avenue, Bray, Co. Wicklow


The opportunities available for young men and women leaving special schools today are definitely growing and improving. The range of training programmes available is also getting more diverse. The quality of training programmes delivered to people with disabilities is now standardised—FÁS or health board-funded training centres that provide training programmes to people with disabilities must now comply with a set of standards reflecting best practice.

Festina Lente Equestrian College aims to reflect these trends. It aims to provide person-centred opportunities through a range of training activities, with an emphasis on quality. Festina Lente Foundation is made up of three different parts, all based in Bray, Co. Wicklow.

Festina Lente Riding School caters for children, as well as offering private lessons to adults. Children’s lessons include both riding and stable management; there are over 250 children taking lessons each week. Members of the Riding for the Disabled Association are regular clients too.

Festina Lente Gardens are set in an eighteenth century walled garden, in Old Conna, Bray. A lot of hard work has gone into researching how the garden originally looked and twelve men and women are employed in its restoration. The garden is open to the public and there are many exciting plans for its future development.

Festina Lente Equestrian Training College, also based in Old Conna, provides a three-year Teagasc-approved training programme in equestrian studies. The training programme caters for young men and women who have come either from special education or from remedial classes in a mainstream school. The ultimate aim is to enable students of the training course to work in the equestrian industry.

A typical day at Festina Lente Equestrian College starts at 9.00am. The first thing to be done is to feed the horses—some of whom get quite impatient having to wait! After feeding, the stables are mucked out—not everyone’s favourite job, but something that has to be done every morning, and again in the evening.

At 10-30 students and staff enjoy a well-deserved break. Then, until lunchtime, students are involved in stable-management classes, riding lessons, riding-out across the fields, or in one of the many personal development classes. Needless to say, on a nice sharp autumnal or spring day, riding lessons or riding-out is understandably everyone’s preferred option!

After lunch, students again participate in their training in the yard. The farrier comes to shoe the horses, with some students assisting, or the vet might be called to attend to a sick horse or to check out a horse that is being considered for the college. Other activities include grooming, clipping horses, cleaning tack or doing basic animal first-aid. At the end of the day, horses are again fed and the stables are mucked out.

Work experience

Work experience plays an important pat of the training programme. Following their basic training, every student spends twenty weeks in different types of horse yards—the time is spread out across the three-year training. This allows students to get an idea of where they might like to work in the future. Some may want to work in a racing yard, a livery yard or a riding yard. Work experience also helps the students to put their skills into practice.

Individualised training programme

All students follow the same equestrian training programme during each of the three years. However, Festina Lente individualises each student’s training depending on their interest, strengths and support needs. Some students may want to improve their literacy skills during the three years; others may want to improve their self-confidence. Each student has an individualised training plan which determines how the college can support them in their longer-term goals. The emphasis is on equipping each student with the necessary skills to enable them to take up employment when they complete the course.

Student feedback

Feedback to students is a ‘must’ during the three-year training. A staff member sits down with each student every fortnight to discuss how things have been going and to talk about what is going to happen in the following two weeks. Students also meet fortnightly with the Equestrian Manager and Principal; a student usually chairs this meeting which provides everyone with the opportunity to talk about general issues. A more formal discussion takes place every three months, when each student’s progress is assessed. Students say that they look forward to these meetings and find them very useful.

After training

Over the past five years, many of the Festina Lente Equestrian College students have been successful in getting jobs in riding yards. Some jobs have been full-time and others are part-time. The Equestrian College—as part of the programme—helps students to find jobs. A small number go onto further training—as was the case for one of last summer’s graduates.

A place of relationships

The students develop a very special relationship with the horses at the college. They rise to the responsibility of making sure that each horse is fed, watered and has a clean stable to live in. Satisfaction is also gained from bringing the horses from their stable to the fields for grazing for part of each day. The students’ sense of ownership, responsibility and pride is evident.

Highlights of the year

Although there are many highlights during the year, one of the most important is the assessment day. This is when Teagasc visit the college to ‘put their stamp’ on all the training that has gone on during the year. The students’ riding is assessed to ensure that they meet the necessary standard. The four graduates last June passed with flying colours and celebrated with a graduation dinner to which all the families were invited.

Plans for the future

The Equestrian College is planning to develop a range of training modules so that students will have a greater range from which to choose. The College will also be able to accommodate a larger number of people interested in equestrian training.

Applications to the Festina Lente Equestrian Training Course

People are always welcome to visit the training college to have a look around and meet staff and students. Young people with a definite interest in the course are invited to attend a two-week orientation programme. This is a good opportunity for people to see if training and working with horses is everything it’s meant to be for them!

A further three-month trial is then offered. During this time, people start to take riding lessons, groom, feed and water the horses, clean the tack, and get a fairly good idea of what is involved in the full training programme. Staff members work closely with each student and familiarise them with the training-day routines and what they can expect from the programme. At the end of this period both the student and staff have got to know each other well enough to individualise the student’s training plans appropriately.


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