Horses lynchpin of Sarahs success
As any farmer knows, life is a roller-coaster of ups and downs and never more so
than this year. Sarah Ling has just been announced Suffolk Business Woman of
the Year – a well-earned accolade – but even her most successful of farm
businesses cannot escape the effects of the current crisis. Tessa Gates reports
SARAH LING is a woman of tremendous energy and drive. She thrives on change and admits to being easily bored. "Im always looking for something new to do, she says.
She has found plenty of new things to do in the 24 years she has been at Valley Farm, Wickham Market, Woodbridge, Suffolk. On this grass and cereal farm Sarah, with husband Stephen, has developed a riding and driving centre, a white animal collection, Britains first Carmargue stud, and a whole host of add-on business facets, many of which have won her recognition and awards.
One thing tends to lead to another at Valley Farm. At the heart of the business is the riding school, complete with indoor arena and safe farm tracks. The tea room and white animal collection grew as a diversion for riders families waiting for children taking lessons. The Carmargue horses filled the white criteria for the collection and for carriage driving and the offshoot of the horse drawn wedding carriage service the couple operate.
Sarahs animal training skills have made the animals celebrities locally – "they are so well known they even get obituaries in the local paper when they die" – and film and TV extras nationally. The farm is often used for film and advert locations – "facillity fees provide useful winter income".
Annual horse events covering a wide range of disciplines including national and international Voltige competitions, horseball tournaments and western shows are held at Valley Farm. And come half term and summer school holidays, the place rings with childrens voices as youngsters from home and abroad gather for pony camps.
"All the family work seven days a week from the end of June until October," explains Sarah, adding that daughter Amanda (23) has become a full partner in the farm this year and son William (21) is very involved despite his day job off-farm. What will happen this summer is still to be seen.
"At the moment we are still taking bookings and hoping. The French student who should come to spend three weeks with us has declined the offer, understandably. We have quite a few children booked in from Europe and if they are unable to come, which looks increasingly likely, then that will mean a loss of income. As for those in the UK, it just depends on how long the foot-and-mouth crisis continues.
"We have a wedding to do in April and it is unlikely we shall do that. As for the other weddings booked, I just dont know," explains Sarah.
Meanwhile, a great favourite with everyone who visits the farm, especially the regulars, is particularly fed up. Camelot the camel (Sarah had always wanted a camel and this is the second to reside on the farm) is living in a quarantine block to keep him from the threat of F&M. "Poor Camelot, no-one dare go near him and his days are desperately boring.
"Life is a bit of a roller-coaster at the moment, the downs being the foot-and-mouth, my father having a stroke last week and my nephew in Norfolk losing his finger in a farming accident – and the ups are winning awards. Still, we keep smiling…"
Inquiries: www.valleyfarm.demon.co.uk or telephone 01728 746916.