OLYMPIC champions of the future could be unearthed on Wearside with the creation of a £1.5million equestrian centre.
Leamside Equestrian in Pithouse Lane, Houghton, is set to open in the coming weeks and is expected to draw 1,800 visitors each month.
Ten jobs are being created at the 30-acre Whitehouse Farm site, with bosses hoping that number will double in the near future.
Features of the development include an indoor riding area with viewing gallery, a hydrotherapy pool and equine spa, a stud laboratory, veterinary inspection area and a lecture room with space for 65 people.
Businesswoman Beverley Brown, who bought the site in 2001, says it will become an “equine centre of excellence for the North East”, used by casual and serious horse riders.
“We are not elitist,” said Beverley, who is originally from Chester-le-Street.
“We just enjoy spending time with people who have passion for horses like we do. The next Olympic gold medallist could be someone living on a council estate in Sunderland, but unless that child has the chance to be around horses, then that talent could disappear.”
Despite Beverley encountering a number of difficulties in trying to make her dream vision become a reality, the centre is set to open in a matter of weeks.
Beverley’s daughter, international dressage rider Samantha, will also be heavily involved with the new venture.
The centre had successfully bred ponies and stallions and was looking to push on with its ambitious plans more than half a decade ago.
But in 2008, Northumbrian Water said it had to use part of the former farm site to create a flood alleviation system, throwing the Browns’ future plans into disarray.
The proposals got back on track at the end of 2012 when £119,000 in funding was secured from Durham County Council’s East Durham Leader programme.
Beverley said: “We have overcome and endured so much in this past five years.
“A lot of sacrifices have had to be made, but we are moving forward. It’s a very exciting time for us.”
Builders from Northern Construction are busy putting the finishing touches to the site, which will have its official opening in September.
Once it is open, Beverley hopes Leamside will become a focal point for horse riding in the area.
“At the minute, we have to travel to the likes of Brighton and Leicester for this kind of site,” she said.
“But one of our aims is to provide international-quality facilities, whether the people using it want to be a ‘happy hacker’ or an Olympic competitor.”
Beverley is also setting up a networking club for those involved in the horse industry, which will regularly meet at Leamside.