It began with a dream. A group of parents in discussion with community development workers from Forum Connemara researched the novel idea of how to provide a therapy which would be of great benefit to many children and people of all ages with all kinds of disabilities. This therapy would also provide unique and fitting for the Connemara pony’s natural ability.
It was a bold and exciting initiative, never before tried in this area, and it would make a huge difference to the lives of the young people involved and their families. A working group was set up including members of Paving the Way, Forum Connemara, Connemara Pony Breeders Society, and the Connemara Pony Club. Leader funding was secured, and several local people trained as therapeutic riding coaches.
As you know, we were initially based at Errislannan Manor where ponies and time in the arena were hired and began operations in June 2015. We employed a part-time manager and therapeutic riding sessions began, supervised by two of our therapeutic riding coaches assisted by an enthusiastic group of volunteers. We became CTR – a company limited by guarantee in 2017 and a charity in early 2018, run by a voluntary board of directors. In May 2019 CTR’s application to the Community Services Programme (CSP) administered by Pobal was successful in achieving partial funding for a manager and three other staff members. It was hard work and there were many challenges along the way. We kept the service afloat by constant fundraising.
With this huge community effort, we were successful in attracting a good number of clients from all over Connemara, including children from local schools. The dream had become a reality.
We have many wonderful memories from those years: the smiles on the faces of our young riders as they experience the joy of being mounted on Angel, Tom Fancy or Ríona; the satisfaction of our TR team of coaches and volunteers as they watch the magic happen; the contented sigh from a parent who sees the transforming effect of the experience on their child as they enjoy a bit of respite from the cares of the day. We also remember the fun at our summer camps, open days, novelty shows and other fundraisers when the community came together to enjoy and support the activities of CTR.
Then our world changed in 2020. Early that year, due to our inability to secure a lease and an increase in operating costs at Errislannan Manor, we found ourselves unable to continue our service there. After an extensive search of the area, we managed to secure a lease on a greenfield site at Ardagh with an assurance from our engineer that obtaining planning permission would not be an issue. However, when we submitted a planning application to Galway County Council it was turned down. Following a meeting with our engineer, we have come to the conclusion that the level of expenditure needed to obtain planning permission is not feasible. We plan to terminate the lease within the next few months. However, despite huge efforts to find an alternative venue we have not been successful.
These financial difficulties would be extremely challenging at the best of times. However, with the added restrictions we have faced due to the Covid pandemic, we have found it almost impossible to continue with any of our usual fundraising activities. This has made it impossible for us to make up the shortfall in wages, insurance and other expenses. In addition, due to the pandemic and lack of capacity, we have been unable to expand our business and develop a tourism package. This is one of the conditions of the funding we receive from Pobal. All of this has led the Board to the heart-breaking decision that, following Consultation with our auditor, Pobal and outside agencies, the board have decided that we pause our activities for a period of 6-to-8-month to review our situation.
Sadly, this means that we will have to cease all operations and there will be no service delivered in this time. All our staff contracts will also be made redundant.
From the bottom of our hearts, we would like to thank our hardworking staff, dedicated volunteers and the wider community for all the support they have given us over the years. Last, but not least, we would like to thank all the amazing young people and their families who have shared this journey with us so far and who, we hope, will re-join us when that is possible.
We began with a dream. The dream is not over but we must be realistic and determine how it might be possible to continue with our vision. CTR’s mission is “to improve the quality of life for children and adults with special needs and their carers in a remote part of rural Ireland”. We still aim to fulfill that mission, but we need to review the possibilities of restructuring and setting up a new entity in a way that is financially sustainable.