Category: Lifestyle

Tags: charity, horse sanctuary, volunteering

Jenny Seagrove Exclusive On The Mane Chance Sanctuary In Surrey

2nd September 2020

Widely known and admired for her roles on screen and theatre, actor Jenny Seagrove is the Founding Trustee of Mane Chance, a local charity where rescued horses have sanctuary and provide help to people who need them.

Rachel Sumner

Assistant Marketing Manager

It’s a bright, sunny August afternoon in a week full of rain storms, that we pay a visit to a courtyard garden at Mane Chance, in the hills overlooking the picturesque village of Compton in Surrey.

Accompanied by her erratic, but adorable Springer Spaniel and a very friendly Staffie-Collie cross, Jenny welcomes us to sit down with herself and General Manager, Abi Smart, to talk candidly about how Mane Chance began and how it grew into what it is today, enabling rescued horses to make a positive impact on people’s lives in our local community.

Jenny’s love for horses started at an early age

Jenny Seagrove grew up in Malaysia and her childhood was spent with animals, a love that was instilled by her mother from an early age with the family dogs as she tells us stories of caring for a baby rescue Orangutan and a brown bear among others!  Jenny learnt to ride horses when she was about 7 years old in Borneo on a racing pony called Brunei Bill, before going to boarding school in the UK.

Drama school came next and on to a revered career of nearly 40 years as an actor, regularly seen on TV, film and theatre. All the while the love for animals remained but horses took a back seat as Jenny played a variety of standout performances from romantic comedies to powerful wartime dramas and of course her leading role playing Jo Mills in the BBC drama TV series Judge John Deed.

It wasn’t until 2011 until her love for horses was re-ignited, when Jenny was asked to step in and help someone who had collected a lot of animals, which consisted of about 40 horses, a cow, pigs, sheep, goats, parrots – you name it they all needed help. Never one to do things by halves, Jenny took on the responsibility for all the animals and set about re-homing and caring for them.

After being introduced to a couple of plots of farmland in Surrey, Jenny thought the site in Surrey was the perfect place for this diverse rabble of animals to call home. In the spring of 2012 they managed to buy the land and original buildings by forming an LLP and that’s where Mane Chance was born.

It’s been all go ever since as Jenny regails the challenge of moving all these rescued animals from their home in Kent to the hills above Compton, including a challenging horse nicknamed Dr Death – so nicknamed because everyone was scared of him!

How did Mane Chance start as a charity?

We asked Jenny how the idea for the charity came about “…initially there wasn’t a plan for the charity as originally it was simply to get the animals out of a death sentence…” but in 2012 Jenny decided to do something amazing – she explains:

“I had always known that horses were very good with helping people so we had a couple of Shetland ponies that we took over to the Shooting Star Chase Hospice and when I saw the effect it had on the children I thought OK, there is something in this.”

Maybe, just maybe Jenny could dissuade people from abandoning horses, by showing people how horses can help people.

In the early days it was really hard, caring for up to 30 horses and trying to find their feet both as a charity and as animal carers. But the charity thrived as they started to raise money to turn existing on-site buildings into stables and add disabled facilities to be able to start welcoming guests to allow the horses to work with troubled and additional needs children.

Mane Chance community programmes

Abi Smart joined Mane Chance as General Manager in 2016 and was instrumental in forming the now successful community outreach programmes where the rescue horses are introduced to the local community. Today the charity has several programmes which allow young or additional needs people to meet the horses. Abi explains:

“We’ve got several programmes where children and young people can do 1-2-1’s or join small group sessions and the fundamental thing we teach them is to be calm around the animals, because unless you’re calm the horses won’t tolerate you being there.”

Most of the children have high anxiety or anger so you teach them to be calm and then they start to work with the horses, they learn how to groom them in a very kind and gentle, caring way, they learn all the skills of how to look after the horses, but in the Mane Chance way – which is where the horse is always considered.”

“We have waiting lists of schools and individuals and due to the large catchment area most of the time we work with a number of schools particularly the children attached to their SEN units (Special Educational Needs) so you might get young people who are non attenders, suffering bullying, maybe they have eating disorders or self harming so the people who have been identified as needing extra support and they have their own tailored curriculum and we fit in with that.”

“We work with some of the PRU (Pupil Referral Units). When children have been completely excluded they are quite extraordinary as you will get children who perhaps have thrown a chair across a classroom or tried to attack a teacher and they will sit down on the ground and spend time with a Shetland pony. It’s all about recognising that not everyone thrives in the same environment and have different needs and that the schools recognise that. Because of that work we’ve had other groups and families approach us for siblings and we work with young carers and lots of other charities.”

Why are rescue horses so effective at helping people?

What’s really nice is because the horses don’t respond to dominance (because they have been on the rough end of that before), it teaches people that if you are nice and calm the horses naturally want to be with you, so they will come over to you. The reward for learning to be calm and composed is the horse.

Many of the horses have had the most terrible time but they have been rehabilitated at their own pace and have learnt to trust us and so they choose to work with us.

As troubled children work with the horses, you can see them growing in confidence as they start to manage their issues and start to engage.

Mane Chance teaches visitors to recognise their own behaviour and how it affects others and the horses. You can literally see the change in behaviour in people because they want the attention of the horses. We then explain that that is how they need to be with people as well.

The horses teach children that if you’re calm and quiet, it helps you connect with the horses and the same is true for the people in their lives. A valuable skill they can take into the classroom – by getting their anxiety under control by breathing and calming themselves down they can now succeed in an educational environment.

The charity also runs a 12 week mindfulness programme called Chance2Be and offer older generations, especially those in care homes who suffer from dementia, to visit the horses and have some fresh air.  

Mental health is so important, now more than ever, so Mane Chance also run Corporate team building volunteering days.

How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected the charity?

In a normal year, Mane Chance run a number of open days, most weekends throughout the year as well as their big annual Open event – a big family day with a BBQ, games, Hogsback beer tent, local craft stalls, tractor trailer rides, live music and meet the odd celebrity or two Jenny invites along from her time in ‘the business’. Covid-19 meant their big fundraiser for the year couldn’t go ahead, so replaced with a ‘virtual’ open day inviting people to their Youtube channel to get involved.

Fundraising has taken a massive hit so any patrons in the sense of wishing to donate money to the charity are always welcome, but more so than ever before. 

On Sunday 23rd August Mane Chance hosted War Horse Memorial Variety Show featuring a stellar line up of stage stars, including singer Marti Pellow and entertainer Brian Conley, for a spectacular virtual variety show in support of the charity.


If reading about the work they do has inspired you to make a donation, any amount would be appreciated to help Jenny and her team at Mane Chance continue the care for the horses and their work in the community.

Make a donation


What does the future hold for Mane Chance?

Mane Chance have been working with AQA who are based at Surrey University in Guildford, to develop a programme of awards based on caring for horses. These are nationally recognised awards of achievement and Mane Chance have written 80 study units covering caring for animals, site maintenance, life cycles, food chains and more.

The goal is to give visitors something to show for what they have achieved in their time attending at Mane Chance, to give them a certificate of achievement and accomplishment which can be presented in front of their peers at a school assembly.

The dream of building a community centre and an arena is also on the horizon to allow Mane Chance to expand and bring more children and young people to work with the horses – it certainly looks like an exciting future ahead and we can’t wait to come back to see it come to life!

How can you help the sanctuary?

On average Mane Chance have 4 equine volunteers a day plus additional fundraisers so approximately 50 volunteers in total get involved. If you have a love for horses, Mane Chance are always accepting new volunteers and try to be as flexible as possible as it’s very much about people coming and having a nice time as well as helping the charity.

If you would be interested in volunteering at Mane Chance you can visit the Get Involved section on their website where they detail all the ways in which you can help them.

Alternatively if you would like to make a monetary donation to the charity please visit the support section of their website. Here you can find all the ways in which you can help, from becoming a Mane Chance Friend, to corporate donations and perhaps leaving a legacy, there are several ways in which you can show your support to this fantastic charity.

You can also follow Mane Chance on their social media channels.





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