Read about the fantastic work our amazing Stable Staff carry out every day at Bleakholt!

“A good sense of humour, strength and a waterproof skin” – those are the qualifications the staff say are needed to work on Bleakholt’s stables section!

Many people know our Sanctuary has a dog, cat and small animal section and all these animals, hopefully, have a short stay as the majority are rehomed.

However Bleakholt started in 1957 when Olive Lomas saved a donkey, Maudie, from slaughter and the site grew from there – and so the equine side is a big feature of Bleakholt.

We have 44 animals altogether in the stables section – horses, ponies, mules, donkeys and even four sheep –  who live out their lives on our 55-acre site, all of which the public can come and have a look at. Most come due to medical reasons and so they need a lot of care, attention and special treatment.

The Joint Stables Managers are Sheila Linley, who celebrated her 20th year at Bleakholt this year, and Natalie Hill, who has been at Bleakholt for eight years.

Sheila said: “I always wanted to work with horses and these are our horses. We are with them more than we are at home and we come out in all weathers to make sure they are well-cared for. Even if you have your own horse, you ride them and perhaps then leave them. We are with these all the time and many horses live until their mid 20’s while donkeys can live until they are 50, so we all obviously get very attached. They can capture our hearts within weeks.”

There are six full-time stable staff working on a rota basis and there is a massive list of horses waiting to come into Bleakholt so we have to prioritise the most needy.

Natalie said: “Our day starts in the morning where we go around checking them, feeding them and adjusting their rugs – basically checking what they have been up to during the night! The horses tend to be outside all the time and have stables in the fields while the ones which need special attention are in the stable block.

“Many who come here are in poor health initially or have some behavioural problems so they all need different medication and feed which is done with military precision. We have colour co-ordinated buckets and it’s tactical getting everything done correctly – but we always do it!”

Mr P

There is an ex-race horse in Mr P at the sanctuary, while others are left due to people being unable to ride or afford them. Some of the donkeys and mules have been

Our 4 sheep

abandoned while some have come from the Donkey Sanctuary as they are herd animals and prefer company, so it keeps them together. The sheep kind of just landed at the Sanctuary!

“We did used to have a lot of sheep and then we got down to one who used to live with the goats,” said Sheila. “Then we had two Soay sheep given to us, then Buddy came, he was attacked by a dog when he was a lamb, and Modge – they all hang out together!”

Bleakholt isn’t known for its sunny weather and they admit you need to not mind the rain to work in the stables section.

“You have to have waterproof skin to work here,” continued Sheila. “It’s all weathers and sometimes we have had to dig through snow to get to the animals or defrost their water filters. They do have the best life though – they have everything they need and have access to a physio, dentist, vet and farrier should they need it.”

To save money, Bleakholt make their own hay and it is productive. “It’s a tough job but it’s cost-effective,” said Natalie. “We get help to cut it but we do some of the hay-making ourselves and it works for us.”

While all the six stable staff admit they love their job, they know there is a downside. “With the cats, dogs and small animals section, they are used to a quick turnover of animals due to rehoming,” said Sheila. “As horses, donkeys and mules live their lives out here, we do get very attached and are very dedicated to the animals we look after. It means, when they die, it’s heart-breaking, it’s a real sense of loss and it’s tough to deal with. Most people who have horses, may lose one or two in their lifetime. The worst we have had is losing ten in one year and it does affect you.

“There is also the logistical problem in that when a horse or donkey dies, you have to move what is a big body, shield it from any public who are on-site and organise its removal. You have to stay strong and solid to deal with it all, while inside you are grieving and it is a tough job.

“Then the other horses don’t care – they want feeding or seeing to and you have to crack on which in one way helps but in another way, you do just want to hide and cry. It’s upsetting. I don’t think any of us would give it up though because we are dedicated to the animals we look after, we love them.

“And we have had some real characters here – all the animals are quirky in their own way. Some are daft, some needy, some playful.

“We always say to work in the stable section you need a sense of humour, strength and waterproof skin – that sums us up!”