He may stand just 41 inches high, but try telling Eastlands Mighty Mark that he’s anything other than a champion racehorse.
For the past 17 years, the pint-sized hairy Shetland — who is described as “a feisty little lad” — has been thrilling the Olympia crowds in every Shetland pony Grand National.
The gelding first raced in 1997 with Kelly Harrison in the plate and she went on to become a professional jockey. And every year since, he’s carried wannabe National Hunt riders to victory over mini versions of the Canal Turn, Becher’s Brook and The Chair.
“He’s taught so many people to ride,” said owner Karen Nixon, from Yorkshire, who acquired him as an unbroken three-year-old. “Ten ponies came down on a cattle truck from Scotland and he was the only one I couldn’t do anything with — every time I put one of the kids on him, he’d throw himself on the floor.”
But with a bit of perseverance from Karen, a budding Grand National hero was born.
“When he was younger, at the start of the race he has to stand at the back and face the other way or he’d have them off!” said Karen. Continued below…
But Mighty Mark’s antics haven’t stopped on the Olympia steeplechase track. One year he was ridden around the stabling area by leading Brazilian showjumper Rodrigo Pessoa (pictured below), he’s met a Who’s Who of celebrities in the prize-givings, and he’s attracted a huge fan base over the years.
But, at the age of 21, it’s time to retire Mighty Mark and his final gallop past the winning post will come on Monday 22 December. His last Olympia jockey will be Karen’s 10-year-old daughter Charlotte Tindale.
“So it will be Mighty Mark’s last year and Charlotte’s first year — I started crying when they both qualified at Hopetoun,” said Karen. “I won’t miss the fact that I went through four sets of clippers this year just to get him ready! And he wouldn’t be happy just out in the field, so he’ll probably keep my grade A showjumpers company when we take them to shows.”
Jockeys in this year’s Shetland pony Grand National are hoping to raise £55,000 for a new recovery suite at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Olympia, the London International Horse Show takes place on 16-22 December.
Don’t miss our preview to the great event in this week’s issue of H&H (out 11 December) with two bumper reports from the show in the magazine on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.