The Urban Equestrian Academy, a project based in Leicester that's proudly supported by the British Equestrian Federation, has been shortlisted for the FEI Solidarity Award at the federation's annual awards ceremony.
The FEI Solidarity Award goes to individuals or organisations that demonstrate skill, dedication and energy in expanding equestrian sport and helping it reach more people. While 50% of the vote is decided by the judging panel, 50% is decided by votes from the general public.
The Urban Equestrian Academy, founded by Freedom Zampaladus, aims to make horse-care and riding accessible to children and individuals from all backgrounds, and to open doors that have not been visibly present before in the equestrian world. Freedom himself was introduced to the equestrian world after moving to the Caribbean (Antigua) at the age of 14, having previously lived in a very deprived area of Leicester. He then acquired a professional racehorse trainer licence and, at the age of 19, he returned to the UK.
"When I came back to England, I noticed there was a real lack of diversity in the equestrian world, and I wanted to do something about it" said Freedom. "That's where the vision for the Urban Equestrian Academy was born. We started off with just one project, which was a pony club for inner-city young people, and this pilot scheme was extremely successful. We went from having 20 kids on a Thursday for an hour to now having close to 80 kids four times a week, and we're now looking to introduce two more days. We aren't just a pony club for children, though, we also have a toddler group, a teenage programme and an adult provision.
Being nominated for the award was a massive shock, but I'm honoured. It's not really about me, though – I wouldn't be able to do this without my staff members. My team are super-strong, super-gifted, and I'm extremely grateful for them. This is for them, for the community, for the young people – solidarity is what we're all about."
As well as riding, individuals learn about horses care, stable management and, in doing so, develop skills that are transferable to everyday life which help improve their behaviour within society. At the stables, the children work in harmony and have a passion for the horses. The project is inclusive of everyone and has created a community away from the toils and troubles of inner-city life.
To vote for the Urban Equestrian Academy, please click here.