“Honestly, it’s the horse,” said an elated Becky Hedger as she collected her awards for winning the hunter section at the well-supported SEIB Search for a Star (SFAS) show at The College, Keysoe, on 18 June with Just Louis II.
“He never lets me down and I am immensely proud of him. For the judges to acknowledge what I see in him and how I feel about him is an amazing feeling.”
Judges Richard Ramsay and David Ingle had two good classes of hunters to assess at Keysoe, at which around 100 horses and ponies came forward for judging across five SFAS sections, with qualifying places for the prestigious Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) in October.
Becky, 22, a sales negotiator for Country Properties Estate Agents, has done all the work with the five-year-old Louis herself.
“I bought Louis as a unbacked two-year-old. I fell in love with him at first sight and knew instantly I had to buy him,” she said. “I couldn’t afford the quality of horse I wanted so knew I had to take the risk of buying a baby and it has well and truly paid off.”
She credited friends Jackie and Andrea Smith for their “amazing support”, as well as Jo Bates, with whom she had a recent lesson.
“I honestly wouldn’t be here today without Jackie and Andrea,” she said. “They have given up their own precious time to take me out all over the place to compete him. And Jo Bates convinced me to enter him [for SFAS] — without her input I wouldn’t have attempted the class this year.”
Becky showed Louis in-hand as a youngster and has entered him in both ridden hunter and Irish Draught sport horse classes at county shows. But even so, she hadn’t expected to win at her first attempt at a SFAS qualifier.
“You reach for the best possible result but I honestly just wanted the horse to have a good experience and for us both to grow and learn from the experience,” said Becky. “I was overwhelmed when our number was called. I will never forget that moment.”
Warwick-based accounts admin assistant Zoe Stevens, 24, earned her HOYS ticket at the first attempt with her 10-year-old hunter, The Talisman, who finished second in the class.
“Taz” — as he is known at home — is a true all-rounder. “He turns his hoof to anything,” said Zoe, who bought him two and a half years ago after her previous horse broke a leg in the field.
“We never thought we could replace that mare but Taz is amazing,” she added. “We just hoped he would do himself justice and that we might qualify [at Keysoe]. As per usual, he didn’t let us down.”
A horse that was advertised on Facebook “for about five minutes” headed the cob line-up at Keysoe. Kate Over bought Cob Only Knows (Sam) last October and they have done some coloured Royal International qualifiers, as well as British Show Horse Association amateur and home-produced classes.
“He was advertised for about five minutes and I was lucky enough to get a private message to the owner, Jane Jones, who’d found him in a field down the road,” said Kate, who farms and runs a B&B at Elmswell in Suffolk. “He is a complete gentleman — 100 per cent genuine, honest and reliable.”
She started showing Sam this season and they have qualified for the coloured sections at the Royal International in 2017 and 2018, as well as some amateur and home-produced classes. Although Sam has always been placed in the top three, it took a comment from renowned producer Allister Hood — who Kate says “puts her right with little tweaks here and there” — to enter Search for a Star.
“Allister said he had as good a chance as any,” she said. “I hoped that I would get Sam through to HOYS — a lot of people had said he was good enough — and he did it on his first outing.
“SFAS is a fantastic opportunity for amateurs and home-produced competitors to have the experience of HOYS. I am very grateful and very excited.”
Sam Rose and her Welsh section D, Ferryland Brenin, will also get the experience of going to HOYS, having finished second in the Cob section at Keysoe. She bought Brenin, now 11, aged just eight months.
“He never did very well in Welsh classes, so a friend suggested hogging him,” explained Sam, who lives in Wisbech, Cambs. “So I did, in 2015, and he’s found his niche. We’ve done lots of local showing and I only came here to see how we’d compare with more county-level cobs.”
Sam does all the work with Brenin — whom she describes as “highly intelligent” —herself, although she has had a few lessons. But she advocates asking for advice from experienced showing competitors.
“We have a few locals who are knowledgeable about showing, such as Kay Gillam, who has cobs, and Sue Bhogal, whose daughters have been to HOYS. They willingly offer help and advice.”
Brenin does a bit of everything, including hunting, but Sam says they mainly concentrate on showing, having had excellent placings in amateur classes.
“I went into the ring today to get some feedback and hopefully to be told we were on the right track,” said Sam, who works as a kitchen assistant at a primary school. “The experience as a whole has been amazing. Brenin gave me the best ride to date — even in the 30°C heat — and my fellow competitors were cheerful and supportive of one another, as showing should be.”
Hacks and riding horses
“If somebody had said I would qualify at my first attempt, I wouldn’t have believed them — it still hasn’t sunk in,” said Roberta Bradby, whose “wild little chap”, the eight-year-old Neutrino, joined the family six years ago. “He was barely halter-broken,” added Roberta, an account manager for Essex Life magazine. “He had just been in a field and even though we didn’t really have room for him, we got him.”
She and her mother Jo broke him in but, due to Roberta’s work commitments, Jasper has competed only lightly.
“I’d always had workers before so having a hack is a bit different,” she said. “However, he does all the stuff my workers would do — I started off show jumping him, he’s been cross-country and the goal is to do working show horses and show jump, as well as hack classes. He’s the most obliging and willing horse I’ve ever had — he tries his heart out for me.”
Roberta was quick to credit her mother’s input. “She’s amazing. Words cannot describe how grateful I am. She’s taught me to ride from when I was three and I wouldn’t be able to do any of what I’ve done without her,” Roberta declared. “She’s chief trainer, groom, driver and she does the horses for me when I’m at work. She’s my best friend and we’re a fab team.”
This was the first SFAS show Roberta had been to and she was full of praise for both the organisation and the concept.
“This was just the best day ever — everybody was so friendly and helpful, the atmosphere was lovely and all the competitors were really supportive. The judges were also great; they were really helpful and gave such good advice.”
Second place in this section — which, like all the SFAS qualifiers, was split into two — went to Nadia Catterwell and Azara. Nadia got Azara, whose name means “the chosen one”, as a just-broken project three years ago. She had competed in SFAS with her previous horse but never managed to qualify.
“My hope was to get good feedback [at Keysoe] and for her to go as well as I know she can — they are top judges so I took on board their opinions to improve my young horse,” said Nadia, who has run her own hairdressing salon in Woodbridge, Suffolk, for 18 years. “I didn’t expect to qualify with her on my first attempt. She’s an amazing horse — she is intelligent and learns quickly, is well behaved, always tries hard and has loads of personality.”
Working show horse/pony
It was third-time lucky for Milton Keynes-based scientist Nicki Stapleton and her pure-bred Connemara Morepark Prince, who won the working show horse qualifier. The pair, who compete in a variety of disciplines, have tried for the past two years to earn a coveted place at HOYS but this was to be their year — the revised format of the class earning a huge thumbs-up.
“The jumps came as a bit of a surprise to some horses in the past but now we can incorporate them into our show so the horse is expecting them,” said Nicki. The format of this SFAS section requires the competitors to jump two out of three fences placed in the arena, with the judges awarding marks for jumping style as well as performance.
Nicki has owned Prince — whom she describes as “my best friend” — for more than five years, and reveals that he is something of a character. “He can say ‘please’ with his front leg, then if you point to the other leg, he switches. He will give you a kiss and high-five your hand with his nose, too.
“He’s a bit of a diva, but is the nicest person you will ever meet. He’s also the yard nanny, showing all the young and spooky ones the way of the world out hacking — we call him ‘Mr Reliable’,” she added.
As well as showing, the pair compete in one-day events, show jumping, cross-country, working hunters and dressage. “He’s awesome at dressage — I call him my dancing donkey,” joked Nicki. “I had hoped he would do well today as we had worked really hard to improve, but I still couldn’t quite believe it when the judge pointed his hat at me to call me into first — I actually cried.”
There were tears of joy, too, when Lucy Smith’s ThingymaBob headed the working show pony line-up, ridden by her friend Hannah Downes. Lucy, who has just finished her English degree at the University of Wolverhampton, had seen a video of the SFAS working pony class and thought it was something Hannah might like to do.
“We thought it would be a good class to show off his combination of flatwork and jumping,” said Lucy, who bought Bob, who is a Welsh section C-gypsy cob cross, eight years ago from travellers. “We decided to enter him for a bit of experience and something much different for him too.
“It was an absolute pleasure to see my amazing friend Hannah riding my pride and joy round in the group. When the judges announced first place was number 291, Hannah was looking around to see who had won. She and I just looked at each other and burst into tears.”
Lucy had seen Bob advertised in a local paper as a “rising six-year-old confidence-giving family pony”. She had broken her collarbone and damaged a cranial nerve in show jumping accidents but was determined to have her own pony. When she tried him, Bob felt unbalanced and very green but she loved the look of him so bought him anyway.
She asked an experience friend to ride him in the school before she got on — and Bob immediately bucked her off. A vet and a farrier came to check Bob over.
“He wouldn’t let the farrier anywhere near him and it was then that we learned that Bob was actually only three and he had not being broken in.”
Giving Bob time to settle in then having him re-broken meant that Lucy’s confidence dipped even lower. It wasn’t until she started having lessons with Sylvia Farmer that things improved.
“Over the past couple of years we have achieved so much together, from starting and scoring low at intro-level dressage to winning at novice and scoring percentages that I would never thought I would achieve,” said Lucy. “One of our highlights to date was competing and being placed every day at the Trailblazers national dressage finals last year. We started having a go at showing just over a year ago and he’s almost always placed.”
Hannah, who competes at Foxhunter level, tried Bob over a few fences and they discovered that he loves to jump, hence the decision to enter SFAS at Keysoe.
“I have always had an absolutely massive dream that Bob would get to HOYS, especially since I have attended the show nearly every year since I was about 10 years old. But I never thought he’d do it the first time out,” said Lucy. “It goes to show that you definitely don’t need to buy anything seriously well-bred and flashy to get to HOYS.”
SEIB Racehorse to Riding Horse
A self-confessed “horse hoarder” will be returning to HOYS in October after her Thoroughbred Clonard Lad (Chester) won the SEIB Racehorse to Riding Horse at Keysoe.
Becky O’Neill, who runs a livery yard of 35 horses in Yorkshire, has had show cobs and riding horses for some years with producer Paul Langrick, but never intended to get a racehorse. However, when Chester came from Ireland to trainer Mike Sowersby, she went to see him race.
“It was Market Rasen in March 2015 and he really didn’t race very well,” she said. “I think he’d lost the heart. I fell in love with him the first time I saw him, though – he’s a beautiful boy and he’s never known badness.”
Chester first went to the SEIB HOYS final in 2015 — which Becky admitted was a year too soon for him — and finished a creditable seventh. Last year, he was sixth and finished eighth in the large riding horses for good measure. He qualified for the same section at the Royal International on his first outing this season, though he won’t be forward at Hickstead, because it’s too far for the team to travel.
“We only do a handful of shows a year because I don’t want him to travel the length and breadth of the country just to qualify,” said Becky, who lives in Appleton Roebuck, near York. “We’ll go to Birmingham because it’s easy — plus HOYS is my holiday! I don’t really do holidays. I’m a single mum so it’s a lot of juggling.
“It’s a lot of work for Paul too. He does all the driving and all the riding, and he had extensive spinal surgery last November,” she added, eager to give Chester’s rider the credit. “I have never come across a more dedicated or hard-working professional person, and never I’ve seen horses love somebody so much as they do him. He deserves more recognition than he gets.”
The second-placed SEIB Racehorse to Riding Horse also goes to HOYS and this was debutant Mr Ooosh, owned by Baileys Horse Feeds and ridden by Lynn Russell.
“He came out of training in June last year and totally useless,” said Lynn. “He won more in showing and that says it all.”
The seven-year-old gelding, by Midnight Legend out of the Irish mare Blackbriery Thyne, was in training with Tom Symonds. He ran twice, without troubling the judges, in 2015. Hopefully, he’s found his niche with SEIB Racehorse to Riding Horse.