A personal account by Suzy Pound.
As a family, we have been lucky enough to qualify for HOYS in the ridden Mountain and Moorland section on two occasions. Once in 2000 with a homebred Exmoor Warrendale Beowulf, and again in 2005 with our wonderful New Forest gelding Moorcorner Minstrel II. HOYS is not our main ambition with our ponies, in fact it is not an ambition at all. We have owned and shown native ponies for 27 years, and remember well the days before M&Ms were even considered as part of the HOYS schedule. Native pony showing has changed so much in this time, gone are the days when people exhibited locally, looked forward to the county shows as the highlight of the showing calendar and made a special effort to attend breed shows. The shows back then had much more of a family and social feel, and everyone would support, congratulate and commiserate with each other as fellow native pony enthusiasts. Today, qualifiers seem to be the aim of the game, and people travel much further afield in search of that elusive ticket. 20 years ago there were hardly any professional producers that had native ponies, now they dominate the HOYS circuit. Although this has raised the standard of native ponies in the show ring beyond all measure, one does feel that as an amateur, home produced family, it is extremely hard to break through this professional stronghold.
Our first HOYS qualification came about completely by accident. In 2000, the HOYS competition for native ponies was in it’s infancy, and we hadn’t really paid much attention to it. A qualifier was being held at our local NPS show, which was sited 10 minutes away from our house. As we were going anyway with our homebred Exmoor gelding Wolfie, I thought it would be fun to have a bash at the HOYS class. Wolfie had won a lot of Exmoor classes in hand, and was going very well under saddle. However, as the class neared, I realised it would clash with the Exmoor in hand, and I thought we would have a good chance in that class as the judge had placed us highly before. Mum wanted me to do the in hand, but I opted for the HOYS class. We were initially pulled in 4th which I was over the moon with, as it was such a strong class. It was one of those days where everything goes so well you think you are dreaming. The ride judge was on the BSPS panel, so I thought I would be brave and show that hairy brown ponies can be as well schooled as their plaited counterparts. I did a simple canter serpentine with a long low gallop, and it couldn’t have gone any better. The conformation judge had judged Wolfie a week before, and he was so badly behaved, it was embarrassing. He had said to me quite bluntly, that this pony was top class, but I really needed to sort his manners out. Luckily Wolfie was back to his angelic self this day, and stood up so proudly for the judge, I had hoped he had redeemed himself in his eyes. When the numbers were called out for the final placings, I wasn’t even thinking about winning, just hoping I would keep my place amongst the Dartmoors, but as my number was read out, I was stunned! I looked for Mum and the ringside, but she was nowhere to be seen, she had gone to ask if the Exmoor ring could be held up for me! She says that as she walked across the show field she couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw me at the top of the line! We didn’t make that in hand class…….
I phoned my Dad who was at work to pass on the good news. It was a typical ‘Dad’ reaction “Jolly good!”. He asked where HOYS was held, and when I said Wembley the line went quiet. I knew exactly what he was thinking “I am going to have to drive that ruddy trailer to North London!”
Everyone says the best thing about HOYS is the day you qualify. This was very true. After the excitement had died down of qualifying on home turf surrounded by family and friends, the realisation that we were off to this legendary horse show dawned on us. None of us had ever been to HOYS before, even as spectators. We entered and had our exhibitor information through the post. Our riding in time was to be 5.30am even though our class was in the afternoon. Back then our only transport was an ancient Landrover Discovery, and an even more ancient trailer. The thought of booking a stable and hotel room was out of the question, we had to watch the pennies very closely as we more or less showed our ponies on a shoestring. We decided to set off from home at midnight on the day to get there in time for riding in, which meant staying up all night. Our mood was quite buoyant on the way there, we were all functioning on adrenalin, and a mixture of nerves and excitement. Even my long-suffering Dad was excited (although he would never show it!). Arriving at Wembley was a dream, it was such an iconic place and it wasn’t lost on any of us. I rode Wolfie in at the allotted time, and he went beautifully. As the class drew near, Dad took some ‘tourist’ shots of us between the Wembley towers. I was aware of some withering looks from professionals, people who competed there every year and were not as in awe of the place as we were. I felt a bit sorry for them, HOYS should never be ‘just another show’. Just as I was about to go into the ring, my nerves took hold and I felt incredibly ill. What was I doing at the world’s most prestigious horse show with my brown furry pony? I suddenly didn’t feel worthy. But just then, some girls from the local riding school (where I had learned to ride many years earlier) presented me with a bag. Inside was an enormous fancy rosette with the words “Simply the best” in the centre, and “Good luck Suzy” down the tail. I was so choked I started to cry, that gift did wonders for my confidence and was just what I needed. I think that moment actually softened the heart of some of the withering professionals we’d encountered earlier! Incidentally, the riding school mentioned is actually the Centre Riding School and Waltersgay Exmoor stud, founded by Marion Williams and Irene Nash. They bred my first Exmoor, Waltersgay Tansy who took me to Olympia in 1991 and was the mother of Wolfie. Two of the girls who presented me with the rosette have gone on to ride Exmoors themselves at HOYS and Olympia.
The class itself was over so quickly, and although we weren’t placed it didn’t matter one bit. Wolfie had done himself proud, and he was one of the only ponies not to react to the clapping as the results were read out. The achievement to us was actually getting there, doing ourselves proud and managing to savour and enjoy the whole experience. However, we were all rather delirious by the time we arrived home, the lack of sleep and adrenalin wearing off had finally caught up with us. It was back to reality the very next day, I was at my desk by 9am. A colleague asked me if I had done anything nice on my day off “Went to a horse show at Wembley” I said. “Oh, that’s nice” she replied…..
Fast-forward to 2005, and my sister’s 6 year old New Forest gelding was really coming into his own, and had clocked up a few good wins. We decided we would have a crack at some local HOYS qualifiers with him, however there was a slight snag. My sister was due to give birth to her first child at the end of May. She said I could “keep him ticking over” for her whilst she was on maternity leave and I jumped at the chance. I didn’t have an open pony at the time, and “Forrest” was so heavenly to ride. We were a better equipped this time around, having upgraded to a little lorry. I entered him for Swansea show, but Jo gave birth two days before. Mum was reluctant to leave her, but Jo insisted that we go. Again, it was one of those magical days that will live with me always. Again we were pulled in 4th, and Forrest did a lovely show, but then again so did every other pony in the class. The HOYS M&M classes were now firmly established, and we knew what it was all about this time around. The desire to get there a second time was very strong, as I knew I could use my experience from the first trip and really enjoy it this time. When my number was called into first place I was totally overcome with emotion, and started to cry in the ring. We had done it! As the judge presented me with my rosette, she said “Wipe your eyes dear, mascara running down your face is not a good look for Horse and Hound”. My legs were so wobbly when I dismounted that I could hardly walk. Back at the lorry, I tried to phone Jo at the hospital, but the nurse wouldn’t let me speak to her as she was asleep and needed to rest. I begged and pleaded but she was adamant. I told her to ask Jo to ring me as soon as she awoke, as I had some VERY important good news. I hoped Jo would get my meaning, and she did. She had to borrow a mobile from another new mum in the ward as hers was not charged, and endured a painful walk down to the front of the hospital to call me. She too was overcome with emotion, not helped by her hormones doing handstands having just given birth. Again, the day we qualified was the best experience. Forrest had a huge picture and write-up in Horse and Hound as he had also taken the HOYS championship.
As HOYS drew nearer we knew it would be a different experience, as it was held at the NEC this time. Having a lorry meant we could stay overnight this time. Although we booked a stable for Forrest, hotels were still out of the question! I must say that I really enjoyed the day before, the riding in and getting Forrest settled for the night, and soaking up the atmosphere, however we were up at 4.30am as our class was in at 7am. The nerves really took hold, and I felt so incredibly nervous. I was stood in the collecting area on my own, as I didn’t really know any of the other competitors, but one professional who I had never spoken to before rode past me, smiled and said “Good luck” That professional was Richard Telford, and I expect he has no idea how much that helped to put me at my ease and give me some confidence to go into that arena.
As the curtains opened and we filed in, I cannot express what a thrill that was, and then seeing all of my family in the stands, I had a grin a mile wide. There is really nothing like riding at HOYS. The experience was so different to Wembley, which was just a tent in the car park. The atmosphere and sense of occasion at the NEC just cannot be bettered. After that though, the class just seemed to rush by, and it was all over by 7.45am. I must admit it was a total anti-climax, all those months of preparation leading up to it, and we were all done before 8am! I am usually not even awake by this time! Forrest went very well, but I felt extremely nervous. We were not placed, and when I came out I burst into tears. Mum thought it was because I was disappointed at the result, but in actual fact it was the emotion, nerves and pressure all coming to a head when it was all over.
Now I have my two HOYS experiences under my belt, I don’t feel any desire to qualify again. I dont feel that thrive in the high pressure environment that is the Horse of the Year Show. I am now quite happy doing local NPS shows, our local county and agricultural shows and the NPS championships. Shows that are local to us, where we can meet up with friends and have a nice day out as a family in a relaxed atmosphere, and most importantly enjoy and appreciate our ponies. I suppose you could say I have gone back to my roots!
Never say never though…… I would love for my sister to be able to take Forrest to HOYS, and as there will be separate New Forest qualifiers at some shows next year we may give it a go. Forrest will be 14 next year, but still looks every inch as good as he did when he qualified at 6. I also have a young Highland who I feel is HOYS standard, so we may also give some qualifiers a go in a few years. We shall see!