Ponies were not an instant attraction for Myrtle. Mum and Dad, Mark and Claire Hallion run the beautiful Blackwater Equestrian, situated in Hampshire.
A busy livery yard and stud, it is home to around 30 horses.
Mark himself is a well-known and successful international showjumper and currently has 12 horses in work with eight competing. There are two resident stallions at the yard.
Claire said “I’ve owned Blackwater Equestrian for six years now and there were no decent yards in our area, so I wanted to create something that really stood out.
At the time, we invested in underfloor heating for the stables and immediately people said that was massively extravagant, but the result has been a huge saving in bedding bills, so has proved really cost effective.”
Claire added “We have clients who bring their horses to us for their holidays and they know our facilities and standards are second to none. With both an outdoor and indoor arena, plenty of off-road hacking and soon, a resident Vet on site, we are so pleased to be able to offer top of the range facilities for our customers.”
Myrtle is now 11 years old. Claire and Mark married last year and Mark legally adopted Myrtle as his daughter.
When Claire met Mark, he announced that his hobby was flying. Claire said she wasn’t convinced he was telling the truth, but he took her to an airfield and they started taxi-ing down the runway.
She commented “I was sure he would just stop as we neared the end, in a sort of ‘gotcha’ moment but we went faster and then took off, my heart was in my mouth.
It has come in extremely handy though, having a pilots’ licence for both fixed wing and helicopters, we can nip to shows much quicker if we aren’t driving the lorry.”
With Mark competing abroad so much it was only natural that Myrtle would be part of the overseas scene and she goes to lots of shows abroad with Mark and the team She has been brought up around the horses and competitions but it wasn’t until a sales livery arrived that everything changed for Myrtle. Big Wig Billy Boy was a New Forest Pony and they realised there wasn’t anyone small enough at the yard to ride him so Claire suggested Myrtle hop on. He looks like a small horse and he and Myrtle hit it off straight away. Claire said “naturally we had to buy him and we still own him to this day.”
Myrtle is a member of British Showjumping, having Mark as a father and trainer was probably inevitable but she, like many small children started off through Riding Club and Pony Club. The reality has been that, in comparison to jumping abroad, there is a huge lack of diversity in UK riding. It shouldn’t matter, even before the #BLM movement, but it has taken Myrtle to have success riding to be accepted.
There should be opportunity for all, regardless of our race or colour. Horses are expensive to keep and maintain and all of us that own them have the same juggling act with bills and managing the costs, but the suggestion that we are not willing to accept children or adults of a different colour is surely an outdated way of thinking these days.
Whether we are riding as a profession or hobby, then we should be celebrating and supporting everyone, regardless. If you go abroad to ride, there is far more diversity in the equestrian scene and it is seen as absolutely normal, so we have to question why the UK has got left behind?
Claire added “I’m just not sure why there is a huge lack of black or mixed-race children wanting to learn to ride or being given the opportunity. Are Riding Schools actively encouraging and supporting?” Myrtle didn’t feel at home in the Pony Club and quickly joined BS competing in the little classes and would love to get onto a future Champions Tour.
Myrtle has busy days, herschedule involves training or jumping three ponies a day and travelling back and forth to photo shoots in Europe. She generally is up at 5am to get the ponies ridden before school and competes every weekend. Last year she was placed in nearly all the competitions she entered. Subject to restrictions, Myrtle is hoping to compete in Holland and the end of July in the Longines Global Future Champions Tour, where she came 3rd in 2019.
She rides for her school and they are soon heading up to Bolesworth in August for the Official NAF Five Star British Showjumping National Championships, including the Just For Schools & Junior Academy National Championships.
As if managing and competing horses every day of the week isn’t busy enough, a close friend of Claire and Mark approached them a few years ago to ask if they would take over the UK distribution of Animo, a wonderful Italian leisure and competition wear brand.
Claire said “We flew into Italy, met with the Head Office team there and after short discussions were welcomed as partners, so we flew home and took over 16 stores in the UK.
We are currently building a brand-new website where customers can either buy direct or find their nearest store.
Animo has the most fantastic range of clothes and they are so ultimately flattering, we are thrilled to be working with them.”
There are big plans in place for Animo in 2021 following the website launch with really strong social media campaigns and new product launches, it’s going to be exciting to see this brand grow in the UK.
Last year Animo approached Myrtle to model their latest collections as ‘The Face of Animo’. The photo shoots took place ahead of lockdown in Italy, working with a range of riders and animals
Myrtle’s showjumping and modelling career looks set to blossom over the years and Blackwater Equestrian still has big plans to grow even more. There will soon be a resident Vets on site for all livery horses plus their own stud facilities and separate conference rooms will be available to hire for satellite meetings.
Myrtle is also talking to Channel 5 about a possible programme on Diversity in Sport. Due to Covid-19 this had been put on hold but discussions look set to resume soon.