Former south London gang member Sam Martin, 27, has now won four national dressage championships and is being trained by the 2012 Olympic gold medal winner Carl Hester. It now seems increasingly likely that Sam will be invited to represent Britain himself at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
It all started at Vauxhall City Farm where Sam would go as a youngster to escape the stress of London life in the 1990’s. As the son of a Nigerian musician, he grew up with his parents in a block of flats behind the farm. Ten-year-old Sam found peace in looking after the animals. In exchange for mucking out at the farmyard, he was given a free riding lesson on Jacko the donkey every Saturday.
But as a teenager, he found he was easily led away from this peaceful existence in search of excitement. ‘To have a good time in south London you need to be in a gang’ he recalls. He soon became embroiled in crime and in trouble with the police. By the age of 13 his life had become so chaotic that he was taken into care with the consent of his distraught parents. He ran away and started to live on friends’ sofas but at the age of 17 decided that something had to change.
“I know people who have been murdered. When I got to the stage when I was worried for my own well-being, I knew I had to get out of London. That’s when I said to myself ‘why not go and ride some horses?’ and thankfully that’s what the farm gave me.”
After a period where he went back to Vauxhall City Farm, using it as a way to rehabilitate himself, he applied for a job as a stable-hand advertised in Horse and Hound Magazine. Working as a groom at international dressage rider Sarah Dwyer-Cole’s yard in Surrey, his riding came on quickly and this opened up a whole world of opportunities.
Within a few months he was competing in dressage classes and when he started winning, horse owners started offering him really good horses to ride. At 18 he suddenly felt trusted, and since then has found ways to put something back.
When he is not nurturing his two dressage horses, he acts as a volunteer and charity worker in his role as a patron of Vauxhall City Farm, passing on advice to others about the dangers of following his own previously wayward path.