Pony rides for £3 at hidden gem FREE petting zoo perfect for families this half term

It's proving a massive hit with families across the north west.

A free petting farm offering pony rides at pocket money prices has had people of all ages flocking to visit during the school holidays. Graybets Petting Farm in Poynton has dozens of animals for kids to see, feed and stroke, including donkeys, goats, pigs, sheep, rabbits, chickens and ducks.

Based at Bank Farm Riding School, there are also lots of horses and ponies to meet around the yard - and children can saddle up for a ride for just £3. Stable owners Lindsey and Tom Robinson-Bithell opened the petting farm last summer, having gradually added more animals to their menagerie over the last few years. "We thought that it would be nice for others to experience the animals and their cheeky nature," said Lindsey, whose late mother Lesley started the riding school.

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Emily Heward took her three-year-old daughter earlier this year and she's been begging to go back ever since.

The riding school is easy to find following the sat nav and signposts from Middlewood Road (although if you're looking for Graybets rather than Bank Farm you might get lost), and there's plenty of parking. There's no entry fee but you can buy feed for the animals for £1 a bag. Under duress (from my daughter, not the staff) I ended up buying all four types - one for donkeys and ponies, one for sheep, one for goats and one for pigs.

In classic three-year-old style, she then refused to feed any of the animals by hand, so I could probably have saved myself a few quid. But I didn't begrudge a penny I paid to what is a non-profit, volunteer-run attraction that relies entirely on donations. And my daughter was delighted to discover the pig pen had a little feeding chute so she could post the little pellets in rather than feed them by hand. I think she could have happily stayed there all day peeking through at their little snouts and giggling as they gobbled it up.

She also loved stroking the Shetland pony and the other horses, ponies and donkeys stabled around the yard. Her favourites by far though were the rabbits, which Lindsey and Tom's nine-year-old daughter Phoebe brought out of their hutches so the kids could have a cuddle with them.

Most of the petting farm areas are indoors, including the riding arena, which makes it a great rainy afternoon activity - just as well, as the heavens opened while we were there.

The goats at Graybets Petting Farm in Poynton
Stroking the bunnies at Graybets Petting Farm in Poynton

Pony ride tickets are available to buy from the office for £3 when you arrive. Given my daughter's reluctance to feed them, I wasn't sure whether she'd be brave enough to ride a pony. But she couldn't wait, and beamed from ear to ear as she was led for a gentle plod around the arena.

There's no minimum age limit for the rides, children just need to be old enough to sit up with control of their head and neck. And if they get bitten by the bug, the riding school offers proper lessons and ride-outs with prices starting from £20. I suspect I'll be getting pestered for them before long.

It's very much a working farm and parents are asked to make sure their children don't climb on gates or equipment, run around or make too much noise - which has apparently become an issue as its popularity has grown.

Lindsey said: "Ninety nine per cent of the response we get is amazing. Obviously we are trying to juggle a few things at the same time - the petting farm, the riding school and the livery side of the business as well - and we have to rely on our riding school staff and volunteers to help out with the petting farm."

"We do hear negative comments from time to time, things like 'this is is, they're not very big are they?', 'they don't have many animals', and about not having a play area. So sometimes it can be disheartening as we are trying our best."

The site may be small - an hour was plenty of time for us to meet all the animals and squeeze in a ride - and facilities are fairly basic compared with more established petting farms that charge entry fees.

But we loved our visit - and with free entry and change from a tenner if you choose to spend anything at all, how can anyone complain?

Opening hours for the rest of the half term holidays are from 12pm to 2pm on Thursday May 30, Friday May 31; Saturday June 1; Tuesday June 4; Wednesday June 5; Thursday June 6; and Friday June 7.

The petting farm is then open every Saturday throughout June, from 12pm to 2pm. Pony ride times vary day to day, visitors should check the Facebook page for confirmation before planning a visit. Opening hours for the rest of summer can be found here.