A new Academy to support talented riders from under-represented communities to get into racing has been launched today. The Riding A Dream Academy, named after the documentary that followed Khadijah Mellah on her journey to becoming the first British Muslim woman to win a UK horse race, will welcome its first cohort this summer. Kindly funded by the Racing Foundation, the Academy has been independently developed by ITV Racing’s Oli Bell and Great British Racing’s Head of PR, Naomi Lawson. In its pilot year it will run two programmes for those aged 14-18 – The Khadijah Mellah Scholarship and a residential week, both delivered by the British Racing School in Newmarket. The Jockey Club, which stages many of British Racing’s biggest events will also kindly fund one Scholarship place for a rider from St James’s City Farm in Gloucester, a club that they have supported now over a number of years.
Khadijah Mellah, who made history when winning the Magnolia Cup in 2019 and who learned to ride at Ebony Horse Club in Brixton said, “Racing changed my life forever and I hope that by getting involved in the Riding A Dream Academy it will change other young people’s lives too. If you come from my background it can be difficult to imagine yourself in racing so I hope the Academy will give other young people the confidence that racing is a sport that you can get involved in, where you will be supported and where you can achieve your dreams and anything you set your mind to.”
Oli Bell, ITV Racing presenter who has helped to develop the Academy said, “We are incredibly grateful to the Racing Foundation for funding The Riding A Dream Academy which will enable lots of young people who wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to experience the thrill of horse racing. It will hopefully provide a legacy to Khadijah’s achievements when she showed that the impossible can be possible and it is something that I am hugely proud to be a part of. I look forward to meeting the racing stars of the future who will be a part of this terrific new initiative.”
Susannah Gill, Trustee of the Racing Foundation and Chair of the Diversity in Racing Steering Group, said: “British racing is a wonderful sport and all of us involved in it must work together to ensure future generations feel they can have the opportunity to be part of it. The Riding a Dream Academy is a fantastic example of the positive action needed to ensure British racing is a diverse and inclusive sport in which everyone has the opportunity to achieve their potential and where people from all communities feel welcome. The Racing Foundation is very pleased to offer its support from the outset and huge credit must go to Oli Bell, Naomi Lawson, the British Racing School and everyone involved in making the Riding a Dream Academy a reality.”
Naomi Howgate, General Manager of Ebony Horse Club in Brixton where Khadijah learned to ride welcomed the initiative saying, “It’s brilliant that The Riding A Dream Academy has been developed as part of Khadijah’s legacy. Having role models that you relate to is so important and it is great that the young people at Ebony and other urban equestrian centres who have been inspired by Khadijah’s achievements will also have the opportunity to explore the world of horse racing through the Academy’s two programmes.”
The Khadijah Mellah Scholarship is a year-long programme for talented riders aged 14-18 from underrepresented communities which, in its first year, will welcome eight riders, with applications now open via www.ridingadreamacademy.com (closing date 14th June). The Scholarship will see the students spend a week at the British Racing School to hone their riding skills, followed by 11 monthly weekend sessions at the school where they will be paired with a mentor, have the chance to gain work experience at a top racehorse trainer’s yard, participate in further pony races and gain a 1st4Sport Level 1 qualification in the horseracing industry. Its sister programme, the Residential Week will act as an introduction to the racing industry for less experienced riders and is likewise aimed at those from underrepresented groups and communities.
Both programmes will be delivered by the British Racing School in Newmarket. Andrew Braithwaite, Finance Director who has been instrumental in the Academy’s development said, “Creating the Riding A Dream Academy is a fantastic idea and links in really well with other opportunities in the sport. The British Racing School is delighted to be involved in the Academy which will help to open up racing. It will provide a really important missing link to help young people from diverse backgrounds get more involved and mean that we are tapping into the full spectrum of talent out there.”
Khadijah’s success in the Magnolia Cup came aboard Haverland, trained by Charlie Fellowes who will be one of the trainers to provide work experience to those on the Scholarship programme. He said, “Lots of trainers will be more than open to supporting this brilliant initiative. Khadijah’s story and success was so powerful and creating a lasting legacy that helps other young people from underrepresented backgrounds get into racing is something that we all see the value in. My team and I can’t wait to get involved.”