Lee Valantine from Carluke wins BHS coach of the year
On a training course in 2015, Lee Valantine had a light-bulb moment which led her to fulfilling her dreams.
She had always wanted to work with horses – she had her own stables, arena and ponies in Carluke which she enjoyed in her spare time.
At that time, Lee (44) worked as a housing strategy manager with a focus on homelessness for North Lanarkshire Council.
Being asked to go on a work training course, however, changed her life.
She explained: “The course looked at nature over nurture and it got me thinking that there was so much I could do with horses to help young people.
"I was already a qualified riding instructor with the British Horse Society and I had the facilities right here.
"That light-bulb moment resulted in me setting up Equitots in June 2016 and I’ve continued to run it on a volunteer basis ever since, over and above my day job.”
Lee now works as a housing manager with a local housing association; however, any spare time she has is dedicated to helping youngsters who need a more nurturing approach to learning.
She was given a helping hand to set up her outdoor classroom, with toilet facilities, from the Scottish Government’s First Port fund.
Support also came from Tesco, the Co-op, the People’s Postcode Lottery and South Lanarkshire Council’s Renewable Energy Fund.
Initially, primary schools selected pupils that would benefit from Lee’s unique teaching style – using ponies to build confidence and skills.
However, as parents cottoned on to the many benefits, Equitots Lanarkshire CIC also launched private lessons.
Thankfully, it’s no longer just a one-woman operation. Her friend of 30 years, June Morrison, retired last year and is now lending a hand.
The girls are ably backed by Lee’s husband Mark, also known as the janny, and his apprentice, their 14-year-old son Rory who helps to keep the place in tip-top condition.
During the pandemic, Lee and June were able to continue offering support to local primary schools online – and quickly opened back up when lockdown restrictions eased.
However, it’s Lee’s work on one very special project which has resulted in her hitting the headlines.
In November, she will be presented with the British Horse Society’s Changing Lives through Horses Coach Award – having been nominated by a parent.
She said: “I love horses and being able to share that with young people is incredible.
"However, the award is recognition that I achieved what I set out to do after that light-bulb moment.”
The award is given to a coach in the Changing Lives through Horses programme who has shown exceptional dedication to their participants’ personal growth.
Since 2019, 32 high school pupils have benefited from the 10 week course which builds confidence and equips them with future skills.
Lee added: “The Society has asked me to become a trainer so I’ll be helping people all over the country develop their own programmes to help young people.
"It’s incredible to think we’ve come such a long way in such a short time.”
With just four ponies, Lee now delivers 18 per cent of the Society’s UK programme...that’s some horse power!