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Bowlers Riding School: 70 Years Young

On Saturday 9th July, I had the pleasure of revisiting my very first commercial customer.  It was the 70th anniversary of the opening of Bowlers Riding School, a legendary riding establishment tucked in between a secluded row of houses on Brewery Lane, Formby, Merseyside.  I had not been back to the yard since the 60th anniversary and I just had to revisit because it held so many good memories. I will always remember the welcome I received on my very first visit in 1971. When I acquired the business from 'old Jimmy Robinson'  back in February 1971, the first riding school I had the opportunity to visit was Bowlers Riding School at Formby, then in Lancashire.  I was a young 24 year-old who has recently closed down my own riding school near Wigan to venture into the commercial world of buying and selling saddlery and riding clothing instead of teaching and breaking horses for a living. Bowlers Riding School had been operating since 1941 and was opened by the late Tom Bowler.  I was welcomed into the yard by Tom’s daughter Mary who was now running the business under the watchful eye of her father who had retired a couple of years earlier.  Mary was to become my best customer for quite a few years to come - I even sold her a couple of horses from my own riding school as we slowly closed it down. Whilst operating from the original tack shop in Wallgate, Wigan I made weekly visits to Bowler's in Formby every Friday.  Not only did I get to know quite a few of Mary’s staff and customers I got to know every single one of her horses.  Replacement saddles, bridles and other items of tack were transferred from my red transit van into her tack room which had that familiar smell of English leather, Belvoir saddle soap and jute rugs. My last visit in 2001 was a delight as over a couple of hundred people made the same pilgrimage I had and I fully expected Saturday to be the same.  The weather was sunny and warm and when I arrived, I was amaze at the number of cars and the people who had turned up to visit. I estimated that well over four hundred people had descended on the yard.  It was 'open house' with demonstrations and attractions, a hog roast and hot dogs, face painting and even horse painting. A mechanical horse attracted the youngsters and even a farrier was on hand to demonstrate his skills. On my arrival I literally had to queue up to see Mary as a stream of well-wishers had made a special effort to visit. Many, like me, were there to relive a memory, a nostalgic trip and most of all too just say thank you. I was amazed to listen to the couple who were of similar age to me who had driven down from Scotland, I was aware of many other visitors from Wales and from all over the North West, I was surprised to see the local Mayor and Mayoress who spent well over an hour just taking in the atmosphere.  Above all I was touched when I witnessed a middle-aged lady embrace Mary and whisper in her ear ‘thank you for changing my life’ Why is it that this lady now in her seventies had captured the hearts of so many people?  It was much more than having introduced them to horses or giving them their first riding lesson.  Since I first met Mary 40 years ago I have heard countless complimentary comments about her and her establishment which just oozed respect. As a member and dedicated partner for the Riding for the Disabled for many years the staff at Bowlers Riding School have changed the lives of many individuals with their patience and understanding.  Over the last 70 years they have introduced countless young girls and boys to a sport which for many was more than just a new experience.  For hundreds perhaps thousands  of those first time riders it was much more than just learning to ride it created a love and respect for all animals and in particular an absolute passion about horses Mary Bowler, surrounded by some of the crowd of well-wishers

Taken from Bowlers website: Tom Bowler, a keen horseman bought a pony “Titch” for his daughter Mary and keen for her to ride him properly, he started to give her regular lessons, it was 1941 the early years of World War II times were not easy for anyone and starting a business that would succeed through to the next Millennium was not a plan at the forefront of any one’s mind. Local people began to take notice and with a respect for Tom’s ‘Teaching Method” he was asked teach other Children with great results, they were learning to ride their beloved ponies safely and correctly. Mary has lived at the site of Bowlers all her life and in 2006 confidently handed over the reins to Partners Karen Southeran and Pat Armfield who have made an ongoing commitment to the future success of Bowlers Riding School.


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