One woman, 14 horses and 51 years mark the history behind the world’s first riding centre for people with special needs.

In 1964, Nora Jacques of Epping Forest opened Pony Riding for the Disabled – the first centre dedicated specifically to helping people with disabilities learn to ride and compete, in Grange Farm, Chigwell.

Youngsters with polio from St Margaret’s Hospital and St Thomas’ in London were soon being sent each Monday to the stable to learn to ride after many claimed the experience made them feel better.

Children at the stable were soon shocking medical experts after they began walking and talking after interacting with the horses despite doctors concerns.

1970 marked the year of the Blue Peter ‘Rags Appeal’ launch which saw viewers sending in old clothing and material to raise money for charity.

As a result, Pony Riding for the Disabled was selected to receive Blue Peter’s first horse purchased from the funds, Rags.

Ms Jacques’s charity continued to thrive until 1985 when a fire destroyed the stables only riding barn.

Current manger, Deborah Hall, who began working at the trust in 1982, said: “it was devastating.

“Children who were not from the stable broke in and set the barn alight.

“The fire service were fantastic and by acting quickly they saved the stables and no horses were hurt.

“The barn however was only 10 by 25 metres and it was destroyed.”

Following the blaze, volunteers at the trust were forced to train children outside which soon became an issue when winter arrived.

The charity later applied to the Sports Council of the Nation Lottery for a grant to help re-erect the barn.

In 1987 Princess Anne, who regularly visits the school, officially reopened a new £466,000 barn and stables after the charity were awarded with a £280,000 grant from the sports council.

Regular events over the two years and a series of fundraisers hosted by a group of women who named themselves the ‘Friends of Disabled Riders’ saw the extra £186,000  donated.

Ms Hall added: “It was a great achievement and the new barn was much larger.

“It was all up and running just two years after the fire burnt it to the ground.

“The school flourished from then on.

“In 1994 we saw rider Liz Stone, who we trained from the age of 11, become the world champion in dressage and in 1996 she participated in the Atlanta Paralympics and won an individual silver and team gold medal.

“In 2000 we renamed ourselves the Chigwell Riding Trust for Special Needs in a bid to attract more children.

“Parents who don’t have children in wheelchairs don’t like to say disabled so by changing to special needs we were catering for everyone.”

In 2009 Deborah Hall was awarded her NBE for helping people with disabilities in Essex.

“It was a true honour to be recognised.” She added.

Today the school continues to celebrate its success as the first riding centre for people with special needs in the world.

With 14 horse the centre is teaching more than 160 young people to ride a week.

Ms Hall said: “We are currently seeking more volunteers to help out on weekday afternoons.

“We are so proud of the school and all it has done to help people.

“Every day we know we are helping someone.

“Because of the work that the school does children may begin walking and talking, something doctors never thought they could.”

You can sign up to volunteer at the Chigwell Riding Trust by calling Deborah Hall on 020 8500 6051.