Over 40 years ago, with her son Daniel on her knee, Sue Lees established a riding school on a small plot of chalky land on Sweet Hill Farm on the Isle of Portland, Dorset. Her long-term love of equestrianism gave her the drive to not only start the riding school but also to produce competitive equestrian athletes who have gone on to become stars in endurance riding, representing Team GB at championships across the world. The business has grown in size and popularity since it was established in 1979. In 2009, Sue purchased additional land from a neighbouring farm to further grow the equestrian side of the Together with Daniel, she plans to turn their small part of this island idyll into a restful retreat and educational facility.
While developing the business and its reputation, Sue has continued to advance her own knowledge and skills, undertaking a raft of coaching exams and natural horsemanship courses to further enhance what she can offer to customers and horses alike.
“I was not happy with the traditional methods of teaching, so I looked to Heather Moffett and her methodology ‘Enlightened Equitation’,” Sue explains. “We were on the same wavelength, so I started to implement those methods of training for my riders.” Throughout her career with horses, Sue has worked with vulnerable people and those with challenging behaviours, and finds her work with them extremely business, with long-term plans to also diversify into other income streams. rewarding. Having achieved equine therapy qualifications, Sue now has added it to Chesil Equestrian’s offering.
In 2012, as flags for the Olympics lined the streets of nearby Weymouth, planning permission was granted to expand the business by a significant amount. The plans included the addition of 52 stables, a house, barn and an arena. Around four years ago, Daniel, who had moved to Cornwall at 18, returned to Sweet Hill with his wife Charlotte and their family to help his mother run the business. Daniel had gained qualifications in construction management and a degree in sustainable construction (among many other things), and had been working on sustainable projects throughout the south west of England.
However, his desire to help build the family business led him to return to the Isle of Portland. Daniel has since gone back to the planners with adjusted ideas for the business, which include reducing the number of stables to 36 but adding a classroom and a canteen. With his background in construction, he is undertaking the building work himself, and has already started on 18 of the 36 stables.
Diversification into tourism
Elsewhere on the farm, planning was granted for a campsite and glamping units to eventually create a geotourism site that is completely sustainable but also feeds into the history of the island and utilises the business’s glorious position.
While Daniel initially began creating shepherds’ huts to place on the site, his desire to celebrate the historic landscape of Portland gave him new ideas to create something different. He began to research the types of buildings that would have originally been on the island, and his plans evolved to introduce fi sherman’s huts, roundhouses and other unique historic buildings for guests. “We want buildings that blend into the landscape and vibrant history of Portland,” he says. Sue and Daniel also want to introduce skills workshops in ancient crafts such as ironmongery, dry-stone walling and stone masonry in a nod to the diverse history of the area.
The campsite, which is managed by Daniel’s wife Charlotte, includes nine glamping units and up to 60 camping pitches, and is a popular destination for a variety of holidaymakers. “At this time of the year, we see a lot of walkers and climbers,” she says. “In the summer, the site is full of families, and during the autumn we welcome adults looking for a quieter time.”
The farm’s unique location means that it can provide a range of activities to suit all types of adventure seeker, including riding holidays with Sue’s trekking centre.
Despite the diverse range of activities that are on offer, there are no roads at the site, enabling people to experience complete peace and tranquillity and enjoy the nature of the site. As a newly-qualified yoga teacher, Daniel plans to offer mindfulness sessions “We are extremely lucky with what we have here, it’s such a beautiful place and I’m more than happy to share it, especially if it helps people,” says Sue. “There aren’t many places where you see the sunrise and sunset without moving from your camping pitch.”
Looking to the future
Despite the business’s success, the last few years have proved to be difficult for Sue, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy.
“It makes it easier for riding,” she laughs, “but having Daniel and his family available has enabled me to step back and given me the chance to rest and recover. I still do all the riding lessons and therapy; I’m still very much involved.”
Daniel’s four children also have a place in the business’ future. When his eldest son, also a trained builder, comes to visit, his skills are put to good use. His eldest daughter, who is studying at university, returns to help at the trekking centre in the summer, and his two younger daughters enjoy time with their ponies. The business’ future is an ambitious project, and one that will not be completed overnight. “_ is is a 10- year project for our plans to be fully operational,” Daniel adds. The family’s passion to create a unique, sustainable holiday destination that offers rest and respite for its visitors is clear to see.