The owners of the first private retirement home for horses in Great Britain, who are passionate about developing staff through apprenticeship programmes, celebrated a notable double at the Apprenticeship Awards Cymru final.

Nicky and Ray Van Dijk, owners of Happy Horse Retirement Home in Crai, near Brecon, who opened the centre in 1989 and have eight staff caring for 50 horses, were named Small Employer of the Year at the prestigious awards ceremony at the Celtic Manor Resort, Newport.

The company offers a variety of staff training, ranging from Foundation Apprenticeships to a Higher Apprenticeship and tailored personal training designed to achieve individual goals are developed. The apprenticeships are delivered by Coleg Cambria.

It’s the second consecutive year that the company has tasted victory at the annual awards, as assistant manager Marc Pugh won the Jobs Growth Wales Outstanding Achiever Award last year. His success story has inspired others to enter the equine industry.

Nicky said: “I am absolutely thrilled for the company that we have achieved recognition for everything we do to train young people. Everyone that works for me is either a current or ex apprentice.

“The Apprentice Programme is essential to our business, meets my specialist staffing needs as a yard owner and appeals to our students because of the career avenues we can open up for them. Our success lies in our outstanding apprentices.”

Award sponsor Claire Hindley, Redrow’s new entrants programmes manager, said: “Redrow is delighted to present the Small Employer of the Year award to Happy Horse Retirement Home. Small businesses are vital to raising the profile of apprenticeships, showing their value to companies willing to invest time and capital into training and the next generation.”

Jointly organised by the Welsh Government and the National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW), the coveted awards are sponsored by Pearson PLC and supported by media partner, Media Wales. The Apprenticeship Programme is funded by the Welsh Government with support from the European Social Fund.

Thirty star learners, employers and learning providers involved in the delivery of successful skills programmes across Wales were shortlisted for the Apprenticeship Awards Cymru.

The awards are designed to showcase and celebrate the outstanding achievements of learners, employers, tutors and assessors who have excelled in contributing to the development of the Welsh Government’s Traineeships and Apprenticeship programmes.

Happy Horse Retirement Home has helped train nine apprentices in the past five years, most of whom have gone on to careers in the equine industry. One former apprentice represents Great Britain in harness driving.

Congratulating Happy Horse Retirement Home on the award, Skills and Science Minister, Julie James said: “Each finalist has helped to set a gold standard in vocational training and this should be applauded.

“Apprenticeships and Traineeships are an essential ingredient of economic success and a vital tool in building a stronger, fairer and more equal Wales. The Welsh Government, with support from the European Social Fund, regards Apprenticeships and Traineeships as an excellent way to build a skilled and competitive workforce, address skills shortages and strengthen the Welsh economy.

“Increasing higher level skills and developing skills pathways that benefit the whole of Wales has never been more important and we are committed to continuing the good work already underway with businesses, training providers and individuals to achieve this.”

The other category finalist was Archway Court Nursery, Newport.