Work of inner-city horse riding school founder recognised

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Imran Atcha receiving the Sir Colin Spedding Award, presented by Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, President of the National Equine Forum.
Imran Atcha receiving the Sir Colin Spedding Award, presented by Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, President of the National Equine Forum. © Craig Payne Photography

One of the founders of an inner-city riding school in Gloucester has been named the winner of the prestigious Sir Colin Spedding Award.

Imran Atcha from St James City Farm Riding School received the award at last week’s National Equine Forum.

For the past 15 years, Atcha has shown dedication and tireless energy in breaking down barriers to provide access to horses and other animals through his youth work and St James City Farm Riding School in Gloucester.

The riding school introduces children to horses in one of the most built-up and deprived areas of Gloucestershire, especially children from ethnic minority communities. Lessons are deliberately made affordable, and the ponies are also taken to primary schools and community settings.

Children are introduced to different aspects of the equine world including shows, racing, eventing and horse care. Atcha also advises British Equestrian and other equestrian establishments on measures to make horses more accessible.

In receiving the award, Atcha said that while he was at the forefront of the riding project, it was “not a one-man operation”.

“The work is accomplished by many different people and organisations over a long period, so I am extremely grateful for all their support and very humbled by this recognition, which is really a tribute to their efforts. We have come a long way since 2007 and we still have a lot more to do, inshallah (God-willing).”

Lynda Warth receiving the Sir Colin Spedding Finalist Award, presented by Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, President of the National Equine Forum.
Lynda Warth receiving the Sir Colin Spedding Finalist Award, presented by Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, President of the National Equine Forum. © Craig Payne Photography

Lynda Warth, British Horse Society County Access & Bridleways Officer for Cambridgeshire, was highly commended as an Award finalist in recognition of the sheer scope of the access work she undertakes on behalf of equestrians around the country.

Initially helping to secure a local bridleway was the catalyst for Warth to push for equestrian access rights to become engrained in policy; consideration of equestrian access is now a requirement for Cambridgeshire building and transport projects thanks to her endeavours. Warth has worked to include different recreational activities within the access network, so that wherever possible families can exercise together safely, whether walking their dog, cycling, riding or carriage driving.

Warth works alongside BHS colleagues on major transport projects to ensure that Cambridgeshire equestrians are included on all NMU (non-motorised user) provisions including reconnection of any severed rights of way, access over or under roads, railways and rivers.

She said she felt “hugely privileged” as a finalist for the award.

“However, I see it as recognition by the equestrian community of the often challenging, always ongoing, hard work of Access Volunteers to protect existing paths, to search for routes that should be available and to seize every opportunity to improve the national bridleway network for current and future generations of horse riders and carriage drivers.”

Sir Colin Spedding was the founding chairman of the NEF and chaired the event for 20 years until his death in 2012. He ensured that representatives of all areas of the equine sphere were made welcome to the Forum, and that topics of general interest and concern could be discussed openly and amicably. The award was introduced in 2013, in his memory.

It is presented annually to an exceptional unsung hero or heroine of the equestrian world. Any individual or organisation from any equestrian field in the UK is eligible, as long as their outstanding qualities have not been formally acknowledged elsewhere.

Claire Williams, Executive Director of the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) won the Special Covid-19 Sir Colin Spedding Award in 2021. Previous winners of the standard Sir Colin Spedding Award include tireless Suffolk Punch champion Nigel Oakley (2020 joint winner); welfare-driven equestrian journalist Eleanor Jones (2020 joint winner); Gordon Wesley, an all-round champion of the equestrian cause (2019); Dr Simon Curtis, FWCF a practicing farrier in Newmarket, Suffolk (2018); and Jim Green, pioneer of equine rescue methodology and training (2017).

The NEF replay will be available from March 8 for three weeks, free to all those who were registered for either the face-to-face event or the live streaming, and available for £20 for those who want to watch for the first time.

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