Storytime continued

Iris carefully stepped in, she loved looking at water, studying it at times but the thought of falling in, well that was just horrible, she was frightened of it and even bath time filled her with worries.  She placed her paintbrush next to Thula on the bench.

‘Keep an eye on it, if we loose the brush we wont be able to get back’

Thula put her nose up in the air and looked the other way, she didn’t like being told what to do even if it was by her favourite human in all of the worlds.

‘Oh come on Thulie Bulie’ she tickled her soft white fur under her chin and then picked up the oars and started to row the boat.

Off they went, Iris and Thula afloat in a purple boat. An idyllic scene but like every tale of adventure there is sure to be some trouble ahead or on this journey take a look behind them.

‘Story’ by Iris Grace

With every stroke in the water they could feel a heavy beat, a heron flew above, ginormous grey wings and yellow beak.  As he flew down beside them his graceful neck was shaped like an ‘S’, so close Iris could almost touch the white feathers streaked with black. 

Iris looked at Thula, her ears were flat back, she turned to see water skiing geese as they landed into the water one after another ‘whoosh’.  Then it became clear why Thula was upset, the noise, the unbearable hinking and honking.  ‘Row faster’ Thula called out. Iris couldn’t think straight, the noise seemed to cloud everything, ‘look at me, focus’ Iris looked into her green eyes outlined with black, her perfect patterned tabby coat shone in the light and she pulled at the oars.  The geese became a distant sound and soon they couldn’t hear them at all.

‘Thankyou Thula’

‘Always at your service’ Thula said with a little bow.  As both their heads lowered they noticed at once that something was missing.

‘The brush!’ they said in unison. 

‘where has it gone, oh no Thula this is awful, what shall we do ?’

Thula looked up with a thoughtful look upon her face, ‘It can’t just vanish it’s never done that before.  Someone must have taken it.’

‘but who, we are the only ones on the boat’

‘there was one other, he was flying right beside us, I always thought you can’t trust a heron, the way they stalk about, those legs, did you see those legs, scaly not like my beauties.’  Thula looked down at her legs and raised one up. 

‘concentrate Thula, they are very beautiful, perfect but that’s not the point, the brush !’

‘Ah yes, the brush, we need to find the heron, then we will find the brush.  Someone must have seen where he flew to.’

Part 2 of Arabella’s short story for Iris, more from this next time.

You can buy Iris’s Prints & Cards here


Are you sitting comfortably? ok, let’s begin…

Illustration by Alice Tait

Tip toe through the forest to hear the trees whisper.  Walk over green hills wandering along with the early morning mist.  Step over a stile into a meadow filled with wild flowers, bright butterflies and buzzing bees.  You will see a tree stump and by that magical stump a little girl called Iris standing with her cat in front of a painting table.

Words have never come easily and she seems shy to most who don’t know her.  Iris loves her books, music and her best friend Thula the cat.  Through painting she finds her voice and more, it’s here among the flowers with paintbrush in hand and her faithful companion by her side we will be transported into their world.  With a fresh sheet of paper, a flick of the brush and a swish of a tail the adventure begins.

Thula looked down at the paper, her unusually long ears with wispy bits at the tips pointed forwards, alert, ready for what was about to happen.  Colours swirled, blue merged with yellow forming green pools, splashes of red touched blue creating purple.  Iris looked at Thula knowing that she could feel it too, a sensation that started from their tummies and spread through their bodies.  They shut their eyes, took a deep breath and counted ‘one, two, three’ then opened.  They were no longer in the meadow.  Iris’s eyes squinted in the bright golden sunlight, the water surrounding them shimmered like dancing stars.  Her cape waved in the wind as she clutched hold of the paintbrush standing on the pontoon.  Thula shook her mane with pride as saw she had her own cape but unlike Iris’s beautiful blue hers was a royal red.

‘Thula, where are we?’ Iris asked, feeling a little worried.

She looked up, her long white whiskers twitched ‘let’s find out’, she knew Iris was nervous, new places, sights, smells and characters were fine for cats but her Iris needed a helping paw.  She trotted along the pontoon and jumped into a purple boat moored at the waters edge.

I know what you are thinking – a cat who can talk, have you ever heard a cat talk before ? but you see there is the magic, their minds are now one, a united duo here in the Kingdom of Colours.

The beginning of a short story written for Iris by Arabella

Anima, Painted by Iris Grace
Iris Grace Prints and Cards available through her online shop

Plans not going to plan

I had our plan, our maps, equipment, training for all of us (the horse, Iris & myself).  We felt fully prepared and all ready to go on our next adventure but life had a few other ideas.  If I have seemed rather quiet on social media over the last few weeks it’s because my attention has been firmly fixed on Tizon, the clubs wonderful horse.  At the end of last month, Tizon was struggling to breathe and couldn’t stop coughing, he went through many tests, all came back clear and then a lung flush procedure showed that he has a very severe condition that is like Asthma, it’s called Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO) we were treating this condition prior to this as he has had a history of coughing ever since he moved to us but I had never seen him like this before.  Weight dropped off him, it was like feeding a sieve and the muscles fell away leaving a sorry sight that broke our hearts.  He went straight onto antibiotics, had a nasty allergic reaction to the first dose so we swapped him to another and then also he has been on steroids as well as pain relief and medication for his condition.  
Our mighty black beauty with a brave heart turns out to be quite a difficult patient and getting his food to exactly the right combo has been a fine art to hide the tastes of all the powders but finally we are getting there. On the day that we were going to be leaving on our 50-mile ride he is in recovery, resting and on his last day of steroids.  The cough thankfully seems to have stopped but now we wait and see if he can manage off the steroids and just on the other medication.  
For his owner the news has been tough, a condition like this is second down on the unwanted list after lameness.  For me, the thought of this horse no longer being with us if he can’t work is incredibly hard.  We have trained together for 8 months and not only do I trust him to carry Iris on adventures he has been a faithful therapy horse for many children at the club and we share a close bond.  Iris has been helping me make up his feed, carefully measuring out doses of medicine and taking his food to him. I have been particularly impressed with her abilities to follow instructions but aware that her latest sleep issues could be connected to the change of events.  
So where does the plan go from here, we have to add another plan, think of it like a pre-plan.  Tizon’s rehab, a chance to learn new things, how to build up a horses topline of muscles from scratch.  Lots of fun exercises, obstacle courses and in hand work.  My pre-plan will merge into everyday life, we can involve his work into our therapy sessions and Iris’s homeschooling.  Projets designing games for him and the other ponies will be a fun challenge.  I have discovered through being an autism parent you forge a new gift, turning disasters into opportunities – the art of flip thinking.  Maybe my journey wasn’t meant to be 50 miles in May, but I will still walk by his side, Iris will still be there and we will look after each other on a different path.  


From the moment I told my father he was going to be a grandfather there has been a longing for fishing trips with this new addition by his side.  Iris’s diagnosis went hand in hand with new challenges, dreams were put away for a while but never forgotten.  Nine years later his wish was granted, to spend happy times on the water with his granddaughter. So my message to you all today is don’t forget your dreams, no matter how hard it may seem in the moment when you put them away always know they are there and one day when the time is right you can make them come true.    

Doorstep Adventures

‘If the plan doesn’t work change the plan but never the goal.’

A storm raged outside and in my head, planning adventures had always had their challenges & frustrations but my great plan for Iris to ride the Pennine Bridleway was going in completely the wrong direction. Block after block, I felt like we were going no where on this one. The distances between the night stays were too big and the National Park accommodation was expensive. On top of that the UK was in equine lockdown over outbreaks of Flu so options for Tizon was extremely limited. I was meant to be raising money for our Aquaponics Project not spending to the extreme. With costs skyrocketing I felt depressed. I needed to re think. What was I trying to achieve? What was my goal?

To spend quality time with Iris where she could thrive and expand on skills, building confidence and a sense of achievement.

To raise funds for our Project

To raise positive awareness of autism and inspire others to look beyond their child’s diagnosis, to see a bright future with endless possibilities.

I realised that I didn’t need to go up to The Pennine Way, I had my very own Midshires Way right on our doorstep. I would learn how to travel with Iris on a budget and see the positives in what I had overlooked. Travelling from home means that we will make connections locally, we will build our support network and spread the word about the work we do here at the club more effectively.

I started to plan, made calls and to my surprise within an hr I had an outline of our trip, within two hrs I had accommodation booked for our horse on all 4 nights. The kindness I felt from others lifted my spirits and I started to plot the journey in more detail.

Our 50 Mile Challenge, a 5 day ride/walk with Iris & Tizon from our doorstep and back again.
Views of the Leicestershire countryside along our planned route

the greatest adventure
is what lies ahead

I will keep you all updated on our progress, for now it’s time for preparations and to get fit so we can manage the 50 miles in May.

“Oh, the places you’ll go”

As some of you will already know Iris and I are planning more adventures, this time a ride along the Pennine Bridleway to raise funds for our Aquaponics Project. The plan is to explore 205 miles of the Pennines’ ancient packhorse routes, drovers roads and newly created bridleways in sections over this year.

A challenge which needs a great deal of preparation physically, testing out kit, getting the horse fit, solving potential problems….so we have made a start over the past 3 weeks with walks and many short rides. Now we are extending those rides up to 2 hours and including stops, practice getting on and off without mounting blocks, handling issues when they arise by ourselves and most of all having tons of fun mini-adventures.

Smurf, our pygmy goat checking out the gear before the ride
Iris and Thula relaxing together while I get Tizon ready
Iris’s version of school bags, packed with supplies and of course lots and lots of books!
Looking out from the top of the village spectacular views along the Jurassic Way
Iris loving the sunshine, can’t believe it’s only February
Having a quick look at the book selection before we head into the woods
Tizon’s first time at Iris;s favorite woodland
Time for a snack
Down at the lake

We need your help, weʼre raising £3,000 for The Little Explorers Activity Club CIC Aquaponics Project

The Little Explorers Activity Club CIC is an autism friendly activity club based in East Farndon, Leicestershire. We have created a safe and understanding environment to have fun and socialise with other families. The main beneficiary groups who will benefit from the club are children on the autistic spectrum and their families, carers, people with mental health difficulties, people with disabilities. The age ranges from young children to their parents and grandparents. We are addressing the following issues – education, training, respite, health & wellbeing, rural/agricultural, arts & culture, social isolation and a stronger community/cohesion.

Our innovative project using aquaponics creates academic learning opportunities, independence and a deeper understanding of nature.

We are currently fundraising for the next stage of our Project, to develop an Aquaponics Workshop and Cooking Space.

Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics where the natural nitrogen cycle of fish in the water is used to create fertile nutrient rich food for the plants to grow. The plants are then fed to the animals or used for cooking at the club. Introducing food chains, life cycles, habitats… sciences, maths, english and geography… to the children in this stress free environment guiding them to explore making their own discoveries.

Our little Club maybe small but we do have a massive reach, last year we were interviewed for the Open University Course on Autism to help others understand our methods and approach. The Little Explorers has been working in conjunction with the Leicester University on the Dream Project to understand the ethics behind using robotics to help Autistic children and their families. We are always open to new ideas and approaches and will support research projects around the world.

The Barn Apartment

Exciting News this year we are launching a new service within The Little Explorers Activity Club, the chance for families to rent our Barn Apartment so you can have some fun family time away in an understanding environment with animals just next door.

To book click here

Single story spacious self-catering barn apartment. One King bed and two singles. Wifi connection and a TV with DVD player.

Fully equipped modern kitchen
You will be supplied with some basics in the kitchen, tea, coffee, sugar and some welcome fruit.
This comfortable sofa bed can be split into two single beds suitable for children or adults.
We can supply some children’s toys for your stay

Bathroom with shower

The open plan apartment overlooks a secure courtyard with a coded solid wooden gate so protection from the road. Large garden, ponies, goats and rabbits, outdoor seating & play equipment for the children, off-road walks to explore, experience some of Leicestershire’s finest views.

Guests will have access to the Apartment, the barn, garden & yard. In the garden there is play equipment for the children, a massive trampoline and wooden platforms and rope bridge in the trees.
Your home from home is just one mile away from Market Harborough with treasures like the Award Winning family run Farndon Fields Farm Shop, a selection of restaurants and shops in town and an abundance of friendly village pubs in the rolling green hills.

Wonderful outings at the Union Warf Marina, Boat or bike rides along the canal spotting kingfishers, Foxton LocksKelmarsh HallRutland WaterUppinghamInternational Space CentreRockingham CastlePitford Reservoir & Coton Manorwill keep your family entertained in the heart of the English countryside.

We live on site in the main house so here to help with any problems and assist you. We also offer riding, animal therapy and healing Reiki sessions.
To find out more about our riding and animal therapy sessions

A Special Gift

I see Iris and the children at the club being able to naturally self-regulate, understand emotions and follow instructions while they interact with the different animals here at The Little Explorers Activity Club.  For children on the autistic spectrum whose minds can be overcrowded with stimuli, the confusion seems to fade when they hold Luna the rabbit on their lap.  Fingers seeping into her soft white fur, they can open up about what they are struggling with or what their passions are.  You can see them pausing, noting details like her funny little nose or long white whiskers.

Luna in the window

It seems their sensory systems are calmed by these interactions.  Lying on Blue’s back feeling his warmth and deep breaths they can truly relax.  Others are calmed by his rhythmic walk and trot.  Watching the enjoyment and satisfaction some take in grooming his coat is intriguing.   They seem to know instinctively that he will enjoy what many of their own bodies need – repetitive strokes of a heavy brush down his shoulder can help them regulate themselves into a state where anxiety levels drop and communication is possible.

Iris on Blue while lying down

The ease in which conversations can flow is constantly surprising, especially when the notes I have read in advance about a particular child’s challenges can seem so overwhelming.  We have created a comfortable sitting room area right inside the barn with an armchair and rug from our South American travels.  There are toys and books to dip into and provide more moments of amusement.

Murph ion the chair

Murph the goat, who is the youngest of all our animals, fits into the baby role. With him in your arms your heart melts. He has eyes like a baby deer and faun-like colouring, and never fails to bring out the soft maternal side in everyone.  I love how the animals come in contrasting pairs, each providing something different.

goat and rabbit

Smurf is the wild card, confident and strong. He leads the way but only seems to bond with certain characters. Once you are his friend he is incredibly loyal but he can take some time to form those relationships.  This characteristic is incredibly useful in the sessions as the children need to consider their behaviour towards him and he therefore teaches them without them even being aware of it.  It is a similar dynamic with Luna and Shadow, Luna is the relaxed cuddle bunny and Shadow is an excitable bouncy presence.

4C9A9511 copy

People giggled when I announced that Goat Agility was on my mind. I had found a wooden dog agility course that we could adapt for the goats. It turned out Smurf, our black and white goat was an expert and loved showing off his skills.  The children learned how to lead them:  the best position to lead your goat across the ramp is to have a short lead. You have to make sure you go no further ahead of the goat than its shoulder. You need encouraging words and guidance to your goat as he moves forward. It turns out there’s a lot involved.

goat agility

It is important to me that our private sessions for families follow what the greatest needs of each family are, and this sometimes means tailoring the sessions to the siblings.  Being a brother or a sister in a special needs family is a remarkable feeling and heartbreaking at the same time. Very often you can see that they put their own needs behind those of their brother or sister.   They love their special sibling and become their best advocates, they know them probably better than anyone. They become used to seeing the unnoticed or the misunderstood.  They are the quiet wingmen to all families affected by autism.  The aim is to give them some time doing an activity that they might not have access to in a world of expensive therapies and needs.


Respite is also important so sometimes that might mean letting the children play on the apple tree platforms while making the mother some tea. I know how valuable it can be to talk openly with another mother who has been through similar experiences.

The animals are a source of fun, comfort, a diversion and a haven.  They relax us and calm our racing thoughts, giving us time to breathe.  As I watch them playing with the children, sitting on a lap, teaching without knowing it, drawing out the best in these young inspirational minds and ourselves.


I sometimes think back to the blue butterfly I saw in the jungle – how the wish I made then has been made true tenfold.  Small hands reach out to Blue’s head: he bows his face down to them and their fingers run down his forehead to his soft grey muzzle, whiskers and pony moustache.  Feeling his warm breath against the back of their hands they join him with deep inhalations and shut their eyes.  These animals are a special gift to us all.   As the next months unfold I wish for more adventures for Iris: adventures that will teach her, will excite her, and will help her find her place in the world.

Happy Iris riding Blue

To find out more about The Little Explorers Activity Club click this link

We are very grateful for any donations as it helps pay for more animal feed, materials and the special activities like the archery, cooking, arts and crafts & music workshops for the families.

If you would like to donate please email us at and we can send you the details of how to do so.   Or if you have Paypal you can use this link.

To give you an idea of costs and why we need to constantly fundraise for the 3 ponies, 2 goats, 2 rabbits and a cat here are some basics:

A bale of hay costs £7.00 (lasts about a day in the winter)

1 Bedding bale of wood shavings £8.00

Goat Mix £11.00

Farrier £75.00 for a trim and 4 shoes, £25.00 for barefoot trim

We deeply appreciate any help you can give x