Perseverance, ambition and enviable support teams enabled Horse & Hound readers to achieve goals in 2015 that a year ago might not have seemed possible. Take a look at these stories of remarkable personal firsts

A grand prix debut — aged 49

In the year of Claire Gaskin’s 50th and her horse’s 20th birthdays, the pair made their grand prix dressage debut in 2015

Holme Park Volnay ridden by Claire Gaskin, during the MFS PYO FEI W at Vale View EC British Dressage High Profile Show near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, UK on 17th October 2015

Making our debuts at grand prix dressage, we’ve achieved an ambition held by so many one-horse-owning, part-time working, dressage obsessives like me.

I have owned Holme Park Volnay (Reg) for seven years. He had been placed regionally at advanced medium with Lucy Farrer, who trained him locally for his then owners. As I had never ridden beyond medium level at that point, I was looking for a horse on which I could work with my trainer Kate Cowell to develop at advanced medium and then progress.

In March we did our first grand prix test — a freestyle at the Myerscough Premier League gala evening. While it was fantastic fun, and gave me a real sense of achievement, we weren’t quite ready.

Through the summer, we trained harder and in October went to Vale View High Profile show, where we did our grand prix freestyle for the second time — an altogether more successful outing with higher scores and some encouraging comments from the judges.

It was my 50th birthday on the 19 December, and I celebrated achieving a long-held ambition with my horse of a lifetime, Reg.

‘Work hard and put your heart in it’

Louise Tullett, 30, took her ‘wasted’ part-cob from the field to the All England Jumping Course at Hickstead

Louise Tullett and Jet winning the senior 70cm championship at Hickstead's Sunshine Tour unaffiliated championships 2015

I fulfilled an amazing achievement with Jet  in 2015 — a six-year-old, 13.2hh part-cob, who was given to me by a friend for the summer. He was wasted in the field with no rider, and previously all he had done was a few local shows.

Jet had a few issues, like bombing off — and was scared of everything — but I worked hard all summer with him and took him to a showjumping show at Saddlesdane, which was a qualifier for the Sunshine Tour unaffiliated championships at Hickstead. Unbelievably we won our class.

The day for Sunshine Tour arrived and I was really nervous as I had been working so hard with him — all I wanted was for him to jump clear.

The amazing pony did his best and I came home having won the senior 70cm championship, scurry and supreme championship. It just goes to show that if you work hard and put your heart in to it, your dreams can come true.

‘They got stronger and stronger’

A 100-mile charity ride showed Anna Pennell what a strong and versatile breed Dales are

Anna Pennell

At the end of July 2015 four riders and their Dales ponies achieved a huge personal first by successfully riding 100 miles for charity up the Pennine Bridleway. Riding in aid of the Dales Pony Society Centenary celebrations — happening this year — as well as Cancer Research, the four riders (Kevin and Joanne Owens, Sarah Harrison and I) set off from Hebden Bridge.

Across four days and some of the worst summer weather we had, we passed up the country finishing at Ravenstonedale in Cumbria.

Not one of the riders was an endurance rider, and all our ponies came from a variety of backgrounds — my own mare Nipna Flora is far more used to the show ring than mountaineering.

But all four ponies proved what an amazing breed they are when they got stronger and stronger and keener and keener as the miles went past. Raising just over £2,800, it was a once-in-a-lifetime achievement for us.

‘You could cut the silence with a knife’

Erica Norman remembers the moment she broke the news that she would be breeding from her Fell in 2015

Erica V Norman

“I am going to let Opium have a foal.”

Silence at the other end of the telephone.

“She loves foals and would be an excellent mother.”

More silence.

“Fells are a vulnerable breed so I would be doing my bit for them.”

You could cut the silence with a knife.

“It would be a spring foal.”

At last a voice came down the lines from my mare’s breeder: “Who are you really breeding for Erica?”

“OK, it’s me that wants a foal, I’ll have to admit it,” I said.

And so the scene was set. I was going to breed a foal having not bred one since I was in my 20s, many years ago. Some said that I was mad.

The stallion’s owner collected Raisbeck Opium, who immediately smelt the stallion and attempted to demolish the trailer en route.

From all accounts it was a satisfactory union, even if she did carry on eating hay throughout the nuptials (Fells are very greedy).

Bathsheba was born 12 days early in a storm and her birth was followed by two weeks of lovely weather — what a clever mare.

I have enjoyed every minute of foal training, with the result that I have a youngster who is a joy to handle and lead, and the farrier loves her.

I shall be backing her when I am 72. Did someone say she was for sale? No way, she is far too precious.

These stories were first published in the Horse & Hound Reader Issue (17 December 2015)