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New owners of Clearwater Bay Equestrian Centre plan second riding school

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Rachelle Purnell with her dog Ricky and favourite horse Ice, an ex-racehorse formerly known as Mr Vanilla

Don’t go to the Clearwater Bay Equestrian Centre expecting it to be snobby and elitist. It is anything but. The place, looking like a big seaside camp, is so laid-back it’s rustic. The staff, some of whom bring their dogs to work, clearly love working with the horses. Arlene, the booking clerk-receptionist, first shows us the ponies, Instructor Kerry Freeman tells us some of the background while we watch a pony jumping with a six-year-old rider, and Khan, the groom, joins in, pointing out Big Ben, the largest horse. Then we meet one of the two bosses*, Rachelle Purnell, General Manager-Business and an instructor.

After three years of trying SAI KUNG BUZZ has finally been invited to the riding school known as CEEC. The biggest news we learn from Rachelle is that ownership has changed. That was three years ago, so don’t hold the front page. Founder Nicky Loiterton had explained by email that because of issues with regulators and neighbours CEEC needed to stay low profile. Then she sold the Lobster Bay business to a group of local investors, led as far as the staff know by Thomas Lee. The new owners are so keen on the equestrian enterprise they are planning a second centre, Rachelle tells us.

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Rudolf and Homer

How have the new owners changed the riding centre? They have slightly reduced the number of horses and raised the pony complement. Forty-three horses and ponies live there now. The number of grooms is down to 13. Instructors total eight. Looking around it is obvious the new owners have invested no money in maintenance. Where is this most apparent? The horses’ stables, which look dismal. Perhaps the horses like it that way. The animals all look strong, healthy and well cared for. It must be a horrendously expensive operation. The horse’s food comes from the US or Europe. Daily water needs arrive by truck. Flying an old horse to the UK to enjoy its twilight years on green paddocks costs $120,000.

The CEEC is open to all, Rachelle says. “Horse riding is for everybody.” Non-members can book a riding lesson. Clubs, schools, NGOs and companies can hire the place for large-scale functions including events with the horses. To become a member you do an assessment lesson during which an instructor will determine your riding skill ($800 on weekdays, $860 on weekends). You pay $6000 a year as a member and are required to buy three packages of 10 lessons, each package costing $5130. A non-member four-year-old can have a lesson, 20 minutes of riding and 10 minutes of stable instruction, for $600. For older children, prices rise slowly.

The CEEC has produced some star riders, Rachelle says. Virtually every weekend competitions are held at Beas River where riders from the Pony Club, HK Equestrian Federation and CEEC among other riding outfits vie to out do each other. CEEC’s latest stars include Yu Xuan-su, a young Po Lo Che resident, who now represents Hong Kong eventing, which includes dressage, cross-country riding and show-jumping; 14-year-old Amber Khaira, who won Horse of the Year for show-jumping; and Instructor Kerry Freeman, who topped the Horse of the Year field for eventing.

* The other top executive is General Manager-Equestrian Sarah Corner.

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