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Inspirational training scheme is offering a chance to disadvantaged youngsters at HEROS charity Image

Inspirational training scheme is offering a chance to disadvantaged youngsters at HEROS charity

Sunday, 7 July 2019


Ryan Groves likes Frankie Dettori and hopes one day he might get a chance to follow in his footsteps by becoming an apprentice jockey.

Not long ago the chances of a positive future for 16-year-old Ryan — let alone pursuing his dreams — looked bleak.

But all that has changed thanks to an inspiring student training programme which is helping youngsters tackle problems of life most of which are not usually associated with the verdant surroundings of North Farm Stud near Lambourn.

It’s the base of the HEROS charity which was founded by Grace Muir and has successfully retrained and re-homed more than 350 ex-racehorses.

Now some of those horses, such as classy Tullius whose 11 wins included the 2016 Diomed Stakes, are also acting as schoolmasters, helping to educate children who looked like falling between the cracks in society, giving them a chance to find a purpose and potentially a job in racing.

Ryan, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, found life in mainstream school difficult and unhappy. He has found a direction working with thoroughbreds.

He said: ‘I wasn’t happy at school. I dropped out and came here and I’m much happier now. I thought I was going to be a failure and do nothing with my life.

I feel energetic around the horses and alive. I had been sat at home, down in the dumps. I come here three days a week — work experience on Tuesday, and Wednesday and Friday riding. I do feel like I have got direction back and I want to go into the racing industry. I will do an apprenticeship in September, coming in here for six months and going into yards.’

Some of the 30 students enrolled in the second year of the project simply found school was not the place for them. Others were cast out of mainstream education, like 14-year-old Kuba.

He had been expelled from two schools, got involved with the wrong people and drugs, and ended up in care. Under the Racing Staff Academy programme, he is back living with his family.

This summer he will spend a week with trainer Richard Phillips, one of around 20 trainers who have expressed an interest in getting involved.

Lambourn trainer Joe Tuite is giving work experience to student Lisa. Tuite said: ‘She is potentially going to be a very good and hard worker. It is great Grace is getting these kids in and it is only a matter of time before some stars come out of it.’

Not all the youngsters on the course want to be jockeys, but with racing facing a staff shortage, Muir is convinced her courses, which also help with life skills and interview techniques as well as teaching English and maths, can help the sport as well as having a positive social impact.

A crucial grant from The Racing Foundation, which was set up in 2012 with an endowment from the net proceeds of the government’s sale of the Tote, helped set up the HEROS student programme.

Local authorities also make a contribution, but Muir’s ambitious plans need more funding. She is hoping the BHA will help out and badly needs others to step up for the project.

Muir said: ‘It is amazing how many kids social services can’t deal with. There are so many kids in trouble, be it bullying in school or on the internet or abuse. These kids have to be looked after.’

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