The new Equine Academy building at Mount Pleasant got a royal opening yesterday when Princess Haya Al Hussein of Jordan toured the state-of-the-art facilities in which she had a key role.
As president of FEI, equestrian's world governing body, she had written to then President S R Nathan seven years ago to request that the vacant land be handed over to the Equestrian Federation of Singapore (EFS).
The area is now home to a 5.7ha National Equestrian Centre, with the $1.2 million academy building - built with funds from Tote Board and Singapore Pools - as its latest extension.
Princess Haya cut a chirpy figure as she toured the venue which includes the first equine training hospital in South-east Asia, demonstration stables and classrooms.
She was accompanied by Ms Low Yen Ling, Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.
"The power of sports and horses to bring people together and promote personal growth is indisputable," said Princess Haya, the first woman to represent Jordan in international equestrian sport and the only woman to win a medal in the Pan-Arab Equestrian Games.
"It is wonderful to see this programme and its facilities being strengthened in Singapore.
"From a global perspective, we want to see every country promoting more equine engagement to empower young people."
The academy offers development and learning opportunities to trainee veterinary technicians, aspiring riders and at-risk youth in Singapore.
Students can acquire professional certification in equine skills, opening the door to a $200 billion industry which employs over one million people globally, in roles from groundskeepers to stable managers.
Yesterday, Princess Haya presented completion certificates to an inaugural batch of eight academy graduates from the Temasek Cares - Equine-Assisted Training and Employment (Equate) programme.
It provides training for people with special needs who are mentored by psychologists and counsellors during a six-month course in which they learn to care for and even ride specially-trained horses and ponies.
One beneficiary is Reuben Swaminathan who is now employed by EFS as a professional groom.
The 22-year-old said: "I'm a more disciplined and confident person now.
"I never thought I would work with horses; now, I can't imagine myself doing anything else."
The expanded National Equestrian Centre is also a boost for elite riders like Janine Khoo and Laurentia Tan ahead of next year's SEA Games on home soil.
EFS president Melanie Chew said: "Our athletes used to have to go abroad for procedures such as the radiography of their horses.
"These new facilities we have now will make a world of difference for the sport of equestrian in Singapore."
This article was first published on Nov 15, 2014.
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