“Perfect” horse exceeds all hopes

Donna Wright, from Ilfracombe, Devon, won the SEIB Search for a Star (SFAS) hunter qualifier, one of the strongest sections of the show held at Stretcholt. Her partner, the Irish-bred mare Aughaleemore Jane (Nelly), was bought as a confidence-giver three years ago but this was only the second showing outing for the pair.

“I had a bit of a disaster with a previous horse — he was too much for me and totally killed my confidence,” said Donna, who runs a Nordic tepee rental business. “Having not long returned to riding after nearly 10 years and having had my two children, I was in heightened self-preservation mode. I had asked a friend to help me find a horse who was a bit older, had been there, seen it and done it.

“I was adamant it had to be a gelding and preferably not grey — but my friend came up with Nelly, a five-year-old grey who had done nothing except a little hunting in Ireland. She wasn’t at all what I’d had in mind, but she’s turned out to be perfect for me.

“I’d not done any showing for 25 years, but a friend went to SFAS last year and encouraged me to enter — I hadn’t even heard of it but it sounded like such a great opportunity to get judged by terrific judges and get some valuable feedback.

“I had one week to get Nelly into a double bridle and ready for the show, so my expectations were pretty low!

“The event was brilliantly organised and everyone was so encouraging and positive; I would urge anyone to have a go as it really is a great opportunity.”

Perseverance paid off for accountant Lynsey Lawrence, from Bramcote, Nottinghamshire, who took second place. Her partner, the seven-year-old Mista Fezziwig (Ralph), a warmblood-thoroughbred cross, was bred by Somerset-based Louise Hebditch, who came to watch him perform.

“It was lovely for Louise to see him qualify as she hadn’t seen him since I bought him as a yearling,” said Lynsey, 39, who was third at Osbaldeston in April.

“We had a bit of a delayed start as I have two young boys, but we did a novice show season last year and have done three shows so far this year. I tried to qualify last year and he was always pulled in well after the go-round, but struggled to settle with the ride judge. I’ve been doing clinics over the winter to get him used to being ridden by different people.

“He’s very sensitive, and needs gentle and tactful handling as he gets worried if he thinks he has done something wrong.

“It’s taken lots of practice to get used to the atmosphere at a show and we’ve had to come up with a feeding and exercise regime that works for us.

“For an amateur like me, this is likely to be my only chance to compete at HOYS, so I feel really lucky and proud of my lovely horse.”

Working show horse and show pony
Home-bred star shines for Sally

Dairy farm livestock manager Sally Ellis-Gray, from Bridgwater, realised a long-held ambition when heading the working show horse section with her home-bred Polden Partytime (Inky).

“I’ve been trying to qualify for HOYS on and off since I was about 11 — first with show ponies, then Prince Philip Cup [mounted games] and jumping,” declared Sally, 56, who rears calves and heifers on a 700-cow herd dairy farm. “I did go into this competition thinking I might have a chance but was pretty overwhelmed when they called my number,” added Sally.  “We gave it our best shot, but I still ‘came over all funny’ as my Gran would have said!”

Sally has ridden all her life in a number of disciplines, including hunting and point-to-pointing.

Inky represents the fourth generation of home-breeding for Sally. “She’s a true all-rounder, winning at eventing, dressage, arena eventing and showing as a small hunter and riding horse,” she continued. “She’s now 11, but due to an injury as a youngster, she didn’t really start her career until she was seven.

“If I had to sum her up in one word, it would be ‘smiley’. She does most things with a smile and loves to please.”

For Emma Grimes, booking her SFAS ticket wasn’t just a lifetime ambition – it was halfway to a promise being fulfilled when her Ebony And Lace (Mollie) won the working show pony section, ridden by her friend Karen Oliver.

“Emma promised her grandmother, Alice Cole, that she would one day get a horse to HOYS,” explained Karen. “Her grandma is 91 and unfortunately now has vascular dementia so it was very important for Emma to fulfil that promise this year.”

The friends from Shropshire have attempted two SFAS qualifiers — Vale View last August and Osbaldeston in April this year, where they were unplaced in a huge class.

“We didn’t think we had a chance [at Stretcholt] as there were so many good-quality lovely ponies that were ridden beautifully,” added Karen.

Emma, 27, a livery yard manager in Shropshire, bought Ebony And Lace — Mollie for short — in October 2015 and she and Karen have had to work through a few issues.

“She’s a sensitive mare,” said Karen. “We’ve been schooling her for a year but the first few months were spent teaching her to accept the aids because she was, and is, very forward-thinking. She doesn’t like people who ride with their hands and will squeak to tell you so!

“She still has her quirks — she will come when called to Emma, but she looks the other way when I turn up. She also suffered a bit of stage fright before entering an arena but I think we’ve worked through that now.”

Mollie has done hunter trials, dressage, show jumping and fun rides, mainly with Emma. But it will be Karen who takes the ride at HOYS at the Birmingham NEC in October, under Search for a Star rules.

Hacks and riding horses
Dreams came true for Ellie

Hevans Forever in my Life (Aurora), a mare described as “my horse of a lifetime” headed the hack/riding horse section, partnered by Ellie Simmonds, a nail technician teacher based in Newquay, Cornwall.

“My sister Georgie actually bought Aurora,” said Ellie. “But as soon as she brought her home, I fell in love with her and ended up buying her from Georgie. She’s now six and will never be sold.”

Ellie had competed in 138cm show pony classes when she was younger but suffered with nerves. This was the 22-year-old’s first attempt at a Search for a Star class, so she wasn’t expecting much.

“My hope for the day was just that Aurora gave the judge a good ride and we got some positive comments,” she admitted. “Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be coming away with a win!”

Future plans are to do some riding horse classes as well as intermediate show riding type classes with Aurora, then to breed a couple of foals from her.

“Aurora is a true princess, she’s totally spoilt, very beautiful and she knows it,” said Ellie, who teaches nail technology at Cornwall College. She paid tribute to her family, who are all involved and were supporting her at Stretcholt.

“My family are a massive support for me. I wouldn’t be able to do it without the help of my mum (Dannii) and dad (Mark) driving the lorry to the shows for me and my sister helps me from the ground making suggestions to help with our way of going.

“I also have help from Jane Hoskin, who has been my trainer for the past 16 years,” she added.

Elllie enjoyed her experience at Stretcholt, one of five qualifying shows SEIB holds throughout the season. “I loved being at the show today, it was run so well, we were aware of the timings of each class and exactly what to do,” she said. “We all had an absolutely fabulous day!”

The second-placed combination, Hannah Chisman and Nicene Creed, have a few more miles on the clock, having qualified last year at Vale View. Unfortunately, a passport discrepancy — the rules for Search for a Star are stringent, as SEIB is keen to promote “ethical showing” — meant they weren’t able to compete in the final.

“It’s absolutely amazing to qualify again as it’s not been easy going with having a little one,” said Hannah, 27, a full-time mother to six-month-old Harry. “I feel I can really appreciate it this year and the hard work has paid off.”

She bought Nicene Creed — known as Mickey — as a potential point-to-pointer, but she first entered him in a racehorse class at a local show.

“Things progressed rather quickly after that and racing was soon forgotten,” she said. “The Search for a Star series is a fantastic opportunity for us true amateurs to experience the thrill of HOYS.”

Surprise call-ups for series debutantes

Two SFAS debutantes received surprise “call-ups” following the disqualification of the original top two cobs due to technical irregularities discovered after the class.

Third-placed Charlotte Scott, a finance manager from Basingstoke, Hampshire, was promoted to the top spot with Money For Nothing (Norman). “I only wanted to do him justice – I would never have thought we’d actually qualify,” she said. “I still can’t quite believe it; I’m pinching myself.”

Charlotte, 33, has owned Norman for two years and they have competed in British Dressage and show cob classes.

“It was a fab day – well organised – and all the people in the office were so lovely,” she added. “The stewards were helpful and pointed you in the right direction, and this has given me confidence that next year we could try for some Royal International and open HOYS classes.”

Jodie Aston, who took the second ticket in fourth place with Hope Henrietta, only heard of her success two days after the show. She, too, was making her attempt at the SFAS series.

“When I received the phone call to say that I’d qualified I was at work and was jumping around the car park!” she said. “My colleagues were staring at me — they thought I’d gone crazy.”

Last year was a bad one for Jodie, a 32-year-old oral health professional who lives in Ombersley, Worcestershire. Her marriage broke down and she turned to her horses to keep herself busy and distracted.

She has owned Hope, now eight, since she saw the part-bred Welsh mare advertised in Horse & Hound magazine six years ago. In 2016, Hope was overall supreme points winner at the Welsh performance show, taking part in dressage, show jumping, cross-country, working hunter and showing, and winning all but one of them.

“She’s a true all-rounder,” added Jodie, who was also third with Hope in the working show horse qualifier. “She’s made my dream come true. HOYS 2017 … wow!”

“It must be disappointing to be disqualified after the delight of winning,” acknowledged SEIB marketing manager Nicolina Mackenzie. “But it is up to the competitor to make sure everything is in order before they enter a qualifier — we don’t bend the rules for anyone. Everyone is equal in our Search for a Star showing classes.”

As part of SEIB’s ongoing campaign to keep showing clean, tests for prohibited substances were carried out at this venue, and Baileys Horse Feeds staff were on hand with a weighbridge and nutritionist to give advice on keeping show horses fit but not fat.

“As a company, we pay for vets to cure horses,” added Nicolina. “We will not tolerate any form of animal abuse and will continue to do everything in our power to prevent it.”


Class 1a Working Show Pony
1st   Karen Oliver riding Ebony and Lace
2nd Grace Churton riding Penhwnllys Seren de Mon
3rd Amy Cox riding Tiger Lily
4th  Claire Kenworthy riding silver Pigeon
5th  Laura Symons riding Cappuccino

Class 1b Working Show Horse
1st  Sally Ellis-Gray riding Polden Partytime
2nd Anna Robson riding Santa Fe
3rd Jodie Aston riding Hope Henrietta
4th Louise Pearce riding Wellshead Duke
5th Jo Martin riding Honeybrooke Cassadee
6th Cheryl Beer riding A Dazzling Turn

Class 2 Riding Horse Hack
1st Ellie Simmonds riding Hevans Forever In My Life
2nd Hannah Chisman riding Nicene Creed
3rd Elizabeth Foster riding War of Words
4th Georgia Wood riding She’s a Lady II
5th Anna Robson riding Santa Fe
6th Tracy Heaver riding Colonel Klink

Class 3 Show Hunters
1st Donna Wright riding Aughaleemore Jane
2nd Lynsey Lawrence riding Mista Fezziwig
3rd Rosie Eustace riding Bridge The Gap
4th Emma Pearce riding Star
5th Victoria Oliver riding Craughwell Strawberry Lad
6th Fiona Benger riding All Torque

Class 4 Cobs
1st Craig Wilson-Hole riding The Cobmander
2nd Marita Warner riding Cordon Bleu
3rd Charlotte Scott riding Money For Nothing
4th Jodie Aston riding Hope Henrietta
5th Amy Holliday riding Kennedy
6th Laura Edmonds riding Willobee

Class 5 Racehorse to Riding Horse
1st Helen Newbold riding Emporeror Jade
2nd Oliver Hood riding Royal Rock
3rd Rebecca Court riding Beware Chalk Pitt
4th Donna Belmonte riding Valentine Jak
5th Bryony Lovell-Williams riding Village Cricket