STARS of the turf, dance floor, and elite show jumping came together this week to lend their support to Festina Lente’s multi-million euro fundraising drive to create a new training centre for children with special needs.

Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey Rachael Blackmore and Nina Carberry joined Irish Olympic show jumper Cian O’Connor at Dublin’s Dartmouth Square at the launch of a massive fundraising drive to help secure a new home for Ireland’s top equine and horticultural learning charity.

An essential €3 million is needed to secure the new centre and a further €20 million to fully develop it moving forward. Currently based in Bray, Festina Lente needs to raise €3 million urgently to buy Belfield House and lands in Kilpeddar, Co Wicklow.

The world-class charity is a recognised leader in the field of equine assisted learning for those with special needs, employs 60 staff and touches the lives of over 40,000 Irish people each year.

Cian O’Connor toldThe Irish Field: “I became aware of Festina Lente in the last couple of years through William Micklem, who is a great advocate and supporter of the charity. They are a great organisation for humans and horses. They are fundraising now for a new home and it is a massive undertaking. Hopefully we can create more awareness of what they are trying to do.

“Everyone in Ireland has an affinity for horses. When they see what Festina Lente and horses can do for people with disabilities and those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, I am sure they will want to help.

“When I started off in Broadmeadows years ago, I saw at first-hand the work done by Riding for the Disabled. I saw how the horses looked after the children and helped them to communicate, to come out of themselves. There is no doubt there is a special connection there,” said O’Connor.

Equine therapy

Dr Jill Carey, Ireland’s first PhD holder in Equine Assisted Learning for youths at risk, is CEO of the Charity, and is on a mission to help those with special needs through the beneficial power of the horse and related therapies.

Dr Carey explains how horses benefit humans from different perspectives, saying: “From therapeutic riding which uses the natural movement of the horse for the physical improvement for people with a physical disability to equine assisted learning, which uses the natural behaviour of the horse to help people develop their self and social awareness, the benefits are immense.”

Future plans

Festina Lente’s future plan is to build a state-of-the-art National Education Centre to continue their work and take on the skilled and time-consuming process of retraining and repurposing racehorses, enabling these animals to have a second career in riding clubs, dressage, show jumping and in certain equine assisted learning programmes.

As part of this, Festina Lente will develop an accredited training programme for equestrians wishing to learn how to look after and work with former racehorses.

People can donate to support Festina Lente, directly online on