Willberry Wonder Pony

The Wobbleberries Challenge for Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony Charity is a challenge for “middle-aged wimpy riders” inspired by Hannah Francis, who was diagnosed with bone cancer at the age of 17 in May 2015 and died in August 2016.

The challenge was set up by founders Sally Barr, Georgie Horrell, Julia Godbold and Sam Elms, who were truly inspired by Hannah’s story and wanted to support her Willberry Wonder Pony charity. The challenge has flourished via Facebook and grown to 1200 registered Wobbleberries in 2017.

Here in the first part of a two-part feature, we share some inspirational success stories from the Wobbleberries Challenge so far….

Julia Godbold, 56

Julia, a Wobbleberries founding member, has taken on the challenge on her daughter’s first pony, 21-year-old Edward. They have owned “Edd” since he was five. Prior to the challenge, Julia had spent the past five years hacking the 14hh grey Connemara after her daughter moved on to horses.

“The last time I actually jumped was when I was about 18!,” said Julia. “I asked my husband and daughter what they thought and my daughter said ‘go for it, mum’. I’m having so much fun on him. My own training didn’t start until after Christmas as we were so busy with organising the campaign.

“Edd needed some veterinary treatment after he had slight arthritis in his hocks so at one point I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it, but after treatment the vet was happy with him. I went to a Wobbleberry camp at in May 2017 which gave me a boost and I feel like I’m getting somewhere now. I’m usually quite confident, but once I got bucked off at a lesson and the next time I got on I was shaking. But I persevered and now I’m loving it. I’d never done a dressage test in my life and that was probably one of my biggest fears!

“Everything about the Challenge has been great, especially meeting Sally Barr. Starting this and being able to take part and get all these people on-board is a wonderful feeling. A big highlight was when Andrew Hoy kindly donated spaces for a whole day clinic at his yard, which we used to raise money and Sally very kindly paid for me to go. Andrew commented that he loved the partnership I had with Edd – that was so lovely to hear.

“In two weeks I have a 70cm unaffiliated one-day event, and I hope to complete my BE80(T) next spring. We didn’t know Hannah, but she has inspired us all!”

Melanie Day, 41

Melanie has completed the challenge on her 10-year-old 16.2hh Irish Draught called Bridgefoot Victory Rebel, aka Victor, who she has owned for six years. Melanie took on the challenge following being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and spending time in hospital.

“I started competing in 1987 as a child doing a bit of everything. Later in life I had to take a couple of years off after I had a serious mental health breakdown and was hospitalised. I was in the right age bracket for the challenge and I needed to get back into eventing! It looked like a good opportunity to get back into something I loved, with a good support group and also raise money for charity at the same time.

“I wanted to prove to everyone that you can do things, despite what people can think about mental illness – you can do it, if you set your mind to it. It was a goal that I needed to be back out eventing, because people had sponsored me. I think if I hadn’t got that push I wouldn’t have done it!

“I have met so many amazing people. My main trainer is Mary Thornley, who last year was awarded the British Empire medal, and she has been absolutely key to me doing this challenge. A huge highlight was going through the finish line at Poplar Park (20 May 2017) when I completed my BE80(T) challenge! Sally Barr was at the finish line and that just meant the world.

“My final challenge this year to myself is Little Downham (3) on 30 September and next year I hope to do more eventing. I’ve got a new passion and if I can raise money while doing it, it’s a win-win!

“I really want to thank every one that has stood by me with my ups and downs. We all look out for each other, once a Wobbleberry – always a Wobbleberry!”

Becky Darke, 34

Becky has fitted the challenge around her career as a British Army officer. She completed the challenge on her nine-year-old 15.3hh Warmblood/Arab gelding Nadisker, known as Disco, who she has owned for four years.

Disco wasn’t the easiest youngster so that’s what stopped us doing cross-country,” explains Becky. “I was petrified of cantering him in open spaces for fear of an accident or fall. He used to be a rodeo king! I wouldn’t canter anywhere other than an arena, and there was days when I wouldn’t even canter there…

“I followed Hannah’s story, she was just captivating and it puts all your moans and groans into perspective. Hannah wanted everyone to be happy with their horses and I really understood that. At the time I didn’t have that with Disco because he was so tricky and I didn’t want to push myself out of my comfort zone. When Hannah pushed herself literally to the limit, I thought I could step up and do the same.

“I have been through every possible emotion. It was generally my confidence that required the work. Disco is a capable jumper, we showjumped with ease, but put me in a field with a log and I was drawn to tears. Luckily through my training I was well supported by friends and the Army. My highlight was just not being judged. Everyone was so welcoming and you just felt you could do it. You didn’t even have to finish, the very fact that you even tried was good enough. It was truly eye-opening how lovely humanity can be sometimes!

“I completed my BE80(T) at Solihull on 19 August. Since the challenge I completed a 90cm unaffiliated event at the RAF Championships. Disco is not the tricky horse I bought, he’s now the horse I wanted. A lot of the time it has nothing to do with the jumping and everything to do with having a look at yourself in the mirror and pushing yourself that little bit further than you would because you know you’re capable of greatness.

“My friend leant me Bigglesberry, because he is the RAF berry pony, but they have since bought me my own Brave-Pants-Berry, who holds a place in my heart now.”

Look out for more inspirational Wobbleberries Challenge stories online tomorrow (Sunday) morning…