'Horsewhisperer' Shirley, 85, gets surprise visit at Preston care home

A 'horse whisperer' known throughout Lancashire's equestrian circles has been given a special surprise at the care home where she lives.

Sunday, 24th October 2021, 3:45 pm

Shirley Almond, 85, dedicated her life to horses and was riding every day until a stroke 10 years ago.

As part of Sherwood Court Care Home's community engagement project, a 16-hand horse and a Shetland pony from the the Equestrian Centre in Preston were taken to the home to see her and help her reminisce.

Shirley's daughter Janette Heaps, 65, from Ribbleton, said: "It was really good, a lovely thing to do. She gave some mints to them and touched their noses like she used to do.

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(l-r) Jennifer Brookfield, Janette Heaps (daughter), Shirley Almond, Emma Powers (Activities Coordinator), Jessica Duckett with the horses at Sherwood Court Care Home. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

"She smiled a lot - she had a great big grin on her face the entire time -so I know she really enjoyed herself, even though she didn't say a lot."

Shirley taught herself to ride at three-years-old and was showjumping at 13. Then from rented stables in the 1960s, she built her own from former railway carriages after moving to houses in Croston Road, Farington, and Marsh Lane, Longton.

"Horses were put before everybody and everything", laughed Janette, who was taught to ride on unbroken ponies her mum was training.

Shirley also competed in showjumping nationally, making a Wembley final on her horse Marshlands Intuition, a sibling of the famous Sportsman horse riden to championship glory by David Broome.

Shirley on Marshlands Intuition, who she rode at Wembley Arena

"She was known by everyone in Leyland with her big black horse Chessman", said Janette.

"When we lost him, it even made the Evening Post".

Shirley also hit the headlines at the age of 32 when she staged a protest demonstration against callous drivers who frighten horses.

Janette said: "She was so slim, but so strong. She used to beat men at arm wrestling competitions.

Shirley Almond meeting a Shetland Pony

"And she's just had this knack with horses. She was a real horse whisperer. People would brign horses to us that they'd be afraid to go hear, and you'd see mum with her arms around their neck the next minute. It was a real gift."

Emma Powers, activity co-ordinator at Sherwood Court, said: "We always try to make our residents feel special and involve them in hobbies they used to have.

"We have recently taken a gentleman back out to visit the farm where he grew up, and there are other lovely activities we've done, but this is the first time we've had horses visit.

"We hope it sparks something off for them in the moment and it invokes the past for them."