She has devoted more than 75 years of dedicated service to the equine industry.

And now one of the region's most treasured horsewomen has been honoured with an accolade at the prestigious Equestrian Business Awards.

Broadcaster Clare Balding surprised the inspirational Tess Hardy - owner and proprietor of Pakefield Riding School in Lowestoft - with a special video message announcing she had won the Lifetime Achievement Award for her services in the equine industry.

Although she turned 90 earlier this year, Mrs Hardy remains as busy as ever in the tack room, talking to customers and cleaning up at Pakefield Riding School - which she founded on Carlton Road in 1946.

Since 1968, and for more than half a century, she has also helped teach disabled people the joys of horse riding, both in Lowestoft and almost 5,000 miles away in Houston, Texas - which led to Mrs Hardy being made an MBE in March 2001.

Now, about 50 disabled children and adults attend weekly riding sessions at the school.

On Saturday, at the prestigious awards ceremony in Nottingham, 19 business activities were up for awards with three finalists in each category, and one was selected as award winner.

ln the category of Riding School of the Year, Pakefield Riding School did not win the overall award but it was honoured as one of the three best riding schools in the country.

Chief Instructor Gemma Collison - who has been riding at at Pakefield Riding School since she was a child and is now head girl - was a finalist in the Instructor of the Year award category.

Mrs Hardy's husband John said: "We are very proud of Gemma, who was awarded instructor of the year.

"There was one final award - the Lifetime Achievement Award - which was introduced by Clare
Balding by video and this was awarded to Mrs Tess Hardy.

"There was a standing ovation by the guests when Tess received the award.

"It was a most successful evening."

In a post on its Facebook page, Pakefield Riding School said: "Wow, what a night we had on Saturday at the Equestrian Business Awards.

"How amazing to have been recognised for the hard work and dedication that both of these have put into working with horses."

A woman with a vision

In announcing the winner of the prestigious lifetime achievement award via video link, Clare Balding said: "Hello, I would have loved to have been there with you in person tonight, but it is my great honour to tell you about the winner of our lifetime achievement award.

"She is an extraordinary woman who in 1946 started her own riding school.

"She has worked tirelessly on it ever since, and still now at the age of 90 can be found out there in the stables doing her thing.

"She also had the vision to start the first riding for the disabled association group in Suffolk.

"And on the beautiful beaches of Lowestoft, you will see ponies and horses out there with people really benefitting from their association and from working in the yard as well.

"She is a woman with a vision but she is a woman who also never shirks from a hard day's work.

"I am so thrilled to say that the winner of lifetime achievement is Tess Hardy."

For also winning the Lifetime Achievement Award, Mrs Hardy will also receive a letter from Princess Anne.