Sister Chiara Hatton Hall

From Jillie – on her “Other Mother”…:

In March 1967 I started my training as a Working Pupil under the tutelage of Mrs Cherrie Hatton Hall at Moat House Benenden.  There were two yards – Moat House which boasted an L shaped stable block with tack room and feed room, an indoor school, a jumping lane and in summer arenas outside in the paddock.  Approximately half a mile down the road was School Farm here were the majority of the stables including a converted milking parlour and just across the drive from the tack room School Farmhouse where Cherrie and Nigel (The Captain) lived.  School Farm was to be my ‘yard’ during my training to become that very self-important BHSAI and over the next couple of summers when I returned to help with the influx of summer students.

To the staff Cherrie was always Mrs Hatton Hall, BUT the school girls could call her Cherrie.  I remember Princess Anne’s detective cycling up the road after the minibus when she and the other Benenden girls were collected for their lessons.  We would bring the horses up from School Farm and then wait to walk them back after the lesson, so we cleaned tack in the Moat House tackroom – just how was it PA’s (as she was referred to) apple for the horse was ALWAYS so much bigger than anyone else’s?

Cherrie was likely to arrive on the yard at School Farm first thing in the morning just prior to driving up to The Moat.  “Quick quick she’s coming” and then “This yard is filthier than my kitchen” we would hear – and that was saying something!!!  We got a little bit fed up, so as one of the girls at Moat House was going out with the local garage mechanic we hatched a plan.  On a day when the garage owner was not going to be there we crept out onto the drive and carefully removed the hub caps from the precious MG – after a quick walk onto the yard Mrs HH drove off up the road to much rattling!!  On reaching Moat House she was in despair, meanwhile said girl suggested it go down to the garage.  Off she went, to be met by the mechanic who promised to look at the problem.  Later in the day the MG was returned to Moat House as good as new.  No charge as he was pleased to be able to help but keep it quiet from his Boss!!  When I visited Sister Chiara at the Convent about 5 years ago the precious MG was brought into the conversation. “Little Jillie do you remember that day”?  I confessed and we all giggled about one of my many misdemeanours.

Following the death of The Captain, Cherrie tried to soldier on but decided to ‘take the veil’.  She was always known as Sister Chiara, never Sister Cherrie, as that was the name she took.  On that visit I took my copy of ‘The Galloping Nun’ for her to sign, and we had such a lovely afternoon reminiscing.

How glad am I that I did my initial training with such a great woman. Much love from so many of us Cherrie – there can never be another Charity Mary (Cherrie), Sister Chiara Hatton Hall FBHS.

And the obituary from The Times online:

Sister Chiara Hatton Hall – obituary

Equestrian judge who taught Princess Anne to ride and was nicknamed the ‘galloping nun’ after swapping jodhpurs for a habit
Cherrie Hatton Hall learnt in 1962 that she would be giving riding lessons to Princess Anne, who was a pupil at Benenden School in Kent. “I was called to see Miss Clarke, the head mistress,” she recalled. “She said that the police officer on guard would come down each time Princess Anne came to ride and that we may have problems with the press and so on, and she said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t drop her because she’s got brittle bones’.”

The princess was a conscientious student, but Hatton Hall recalled that the future Olympic equestrian had much to learn. “Before, I think she had just got on and ridden at home with her groom, not being told how to ride, and this was a different sort of schooling.” On another occasion, Hatton Hall had to emphasise that “halt means halt”, even to a princess. Anne’s request to wear spurs while riding because “uncle Dickie [Mountbatten] says I should” was firmly discouraged.

Virginia Leng, who became the world eventing champion and winner of four Olympic medals, was another pupil.
Riding and royalty were Hatton Hall’s world. A scion of Anglo-Irish aristocracy, she had been presented at Court in 1948, married an army officer and taught riding to the international social elite. Yet when widowed at 42 she exchanged her jodhpurs for a Franciscan habit, embracing a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. The Franciscans are an order that maintains a working life and Hatton Hall became an instructing judge on a diocesan marriage tribunal. Then, at the suggestion of an imaginative superior, she took up the reins once more, this time at the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) centre in Cranleigh.

Between judging top-flight dressage competitions she travelled the world, teaching riding instructors how to bring self-respect and joy to mentally and physically disabled adults and children. In Singapore she appeared on posters and T-shirts riding a black horse with her white veil flying in the wind, leading to her being known as “the galloping nun”.

Charity Mary Kendall was born in Southsea, Hampshire, in 1930, the daughter of Charles Kendall, an officer in the Royal Artillery, and his wife, Cara (née Pelly), who was from Ireland. She had a younger brother, John, and two much younger sisters, Juliet and Alex. They were largely raised by Coco, a friend who lived with the family. They moved to Alton, in Hampshire, where the children had their first pony, Tom Thumb, and then South Kensington, where Cherrie’s earliest schooling was at the Convent of the Assumption in Kensington Square. On the eve of war her father bought Great Nineveh, a 100-acre farm in Benenden, Kent.

In 1946 Cherrie was sent to stay with a Swiss family in Lausanne. There she learnt to ski, took riding lessons and played ping-pong with American soldiers. By then her Catholic faith was important. “Since those days, I have always got up very early in the morning and used that time for prayer,” she wrote.

She spent time riding in Ireland and back in Britain created the Benenden Riding Establishment with her father at Great Nineveh. Life became a whirl of cross-country, showjumping and dressage. She watched the equestrian events at the 1948 London Olympics, rode at Badminton in 1953, hunted near Baghdad with the Royal Harithea, and enjoyed an extended stay on an uncle’s ranch in Washington state.

In 1951 she met Nigel Hatton Hall when he helped to push her car out of the mud after Mass one Sunday. He was aide-de-campe to General Sir Alec Bishop, a postwar regional commissioner for North Rhine- Westphalia. “The story goes that I put my hand out of the window with sixpence to give him and said ‘Thank you, my good man’,” she wrote.

They were married at Brompton Oratory in 1955 and were both involved in Benenden Riding Establishment, which drew wealthy clients from around Europe. The following year her horse Bright Prospect was selected for the three-day event team at the Olympic Games in Stockholm, but fell lame and did not compete.

Eventually there were tensions with her father and the Hatton Halls left to set up their own establishment, Moat riding school, just down the road. An accommodation was reached where Benenden Riding Establishment trained adults and the Moat took children. Thus it was that Princess Anne became a pupil. Increasingly Hatton Hall was becoming known in the wider horse world and in 1961 she was made a Fellow of the British Horse Society, a rare accolade. Her husband, an alcoholic, died in 1972.

The stress of running a business, the trauma of being estranged from her parents and the misery of being a young widow were too much and in 1974 she entered the novitiate. Later she told how “having been in charge of a business for 20 odd years and married”, the change of pace came as a shock. There were no books in her cell, she had the bare minimum of clothing and her life was one of obedience. In time she was able to return to examining for the British Horse Society, doing so for 20 years clad in her nun’s habit.

During a year at Beda College in Rome she was not permitted to drive. She studied pastoral theology and canon law and, having made her final profession in 1981, became an “office boy” for the diocesan tribunal office at Archbishop’s House in Southwark, recalling that the archbishop was very kind “because I was off for quite a number of days, either to meetings or running round after people or horses”.

In 1971 Princess Anne was appointed patron of the RDA, becoming president in 1985. She oversaw a presentation to Hatton Hall in 2001 in which the “galloping nun” was named life vice-president of the RDA.

Hatton Hall’s memoir, The Galloping Nun, was published in 2013, while her “fire and brimstone” lectures earned her the nickname among her nephews of “the Penguin”, after the austere Sister Mary Stigmata in the film The Blues Brothers (1980). One of them said that when she was with horses, it was as if she had a magic wand: “She could identify a problem down to one little muscle, and then through patient exercise the problem would melt away. Cherrie spoke the language of equus fluently.”

Sister Chiara Hatton Hall, nun and riding instructor, was born on August 15, 1930. She died on September 23, 2020, aged 90